The Deference of Jacob

“And Jacob sent messengers.”

– Genesis 32:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“This parasha was written to show how H’Shem saved his servant from a stronger foe, and sent his angels to rescue him. In addition, it teaches us that he [Jacob] didn’t rely on his righteousness, and made every effort to save himself.” – Ramban, sefaria.org

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, seemingly so, alludes to these angels that were assigned for protective measures (Genesis 32:4).

“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom” (Genesis 32:4, JPS). 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.

Regardless of the interpretation, if Jacob had the opportunity to seek divine protection from angels who would actually defend his entourage, he did not rely on this; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: prayers, appeasement, and a defensive strategy. He prayed to H’ Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; sent gifts to Esau to appease his resentment; and he divided the camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would have the opportunity to escape. Although Jacob could have prevailed upon H’Shem to rescue him through an angelic force, he chose humility, by subjecting himself in all deference to his brother, Esau.

Camping with the Angels

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeitzei 5782

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him. “And Jacob said when he saw them: ‘This is G-d’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” – Genesis  32:2-3, JPS

An impasse was reached in the life of Jacob after his encounter with Laban at Mitzpah. This might also be thought of as a brief moment of respite, between the danger that had passed, regarding the threat of Laban, and the impending encounter between Jacob and Esau. After making a covenant with Laban to guard against future infringements against either of their sense of autonomy (Genesis 31:52), Laban departs, returning to his place, after having pursued Jacob, who, himself is on his way back to his father Isaac, bringing along with him, his wives and children. The Torah records, immediately following his treaty with Laban, that angels of Elokim (G-d) met him; so, he ascribes the name mahanaim to that place.

Literally, mahanaim means two camps; commentators note that this implies that two camps of angels met with Jacob. The first camp of angels were those that had accompanied him along the way from Laban’s land, where he had lived for twenty years; the second camp of angels are said to be those who will now accompany him into Eretz Canaan. Another rendering may be made as follows: that in the plain sense, perhaps, the name mahanaim refers to the two camps that met immediately preceding the appearance of the angels. That is the camp of Jacob and his family, who had set out to return home; and, the camp of Laban and his men, who pursued Jacob when he learned that he fled.

Where they actually met, and made a covenant after the confrontation, is referred to as Mitzpah, meaning “watchtower.” This place is mentioned later in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) and seems to have continued to be a type of boundary marker between two peoples, the Israelites and the Ammonites. Thus the presence of the angels may concern the peace that is hoped to ensue after narrowly averting a potential conflict. Either way, in a more general sense, another implication may be the reassurance from G-d, that he watches over us in times of trouble, as he watched over Jacob. “For He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:11, JPS).

“This heap is witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed; and Mizpah, for he said: ‘The L-RD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”

– Genesis 31:48-49, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Angelic Errand

B”H

parashas Vayishlach 5781

“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).