“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom.”
– Genesis 32:4, Jewish Publication Society
Previously, the Torah speaks of two camps of angels, one that accompanied Jacob to the edge of the land of Canaan, and another camp that served to accompany him and his entourage once they entered Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants (see Genesis 32:2-3). Now, at the beginning of parashas Vayishlach, the Torah alludes to these very same angels that were assigned for protection (Genesis 32:4). The Hebrew word, malachim can mean messengers or angels. In the literal sense, Jacob sent messengers to Esau; yet, on another level, the angels granted to him for protection, may have also gone ahead of Jacob’s entourage to meet Esau.
Nachmanides comments that “this parsha is written to announce that H’Shem saved his servant and redeemed him with a strong arm, and he sent an angel to save him. And we learn more that he was not confident in his deeds, and he made an effort to save all that he could” (Ramban, 32:2, sefaria.org). Jacob himself states, “I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto Thy servant” (Genesis 32:11, JPS).
Jacob did not only rely on divine protection; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: defense, prayers and appeasement. He divided his camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would escape; he prayed to H’Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; he also sent gifts to Esau. He sent droves of sheep, cattle, and goats ahead as gifts for Esau. His servants went ahead of him with the gifts. Finally, when Esau approached, Jacob went ahead of his family and bowed seven times to his brother Esau. By way of the gifts that Jacob sent ahead, and his own humble posture of subservience to Esau, even calling him, L-rd, out of deference, Jacob brought about a meeting with his brother that became more like a tearful reunion. “Esau’s pity was aroused when he saw him [Jacob] prostrating himself so many times” (Rashi, Genesis Rabbah 78:8, sefaria.org).