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.

Shavuot 5780

B”H

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

This year, as Shavuot approaches, my imagination is captured by recent events, going back to Purim: a long and arduous journey of the soul, from rejoicing, to solitude, and now the figurative climb in preparation of receiving the Commandments anew in our lives. Let me explain. On my personal journey from rejoicing at a Purim celebration, that turned out to be the last time that I attended a religious community event. Solitude, as I mostly hunkered down into an almost overly self imposed shelter-in-place existence. The spiritual climb, having the solitude to focus on my derech (path), into the wilderness, so that I might be refined b’ezrach H’Shem (with G-d’s help) enough to na’aseh v’nishmah – perform, and understand – over time the significance of the commandments anew.

We are mostly all camped out within our own personal deserts; yet, the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). A place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. Plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth, if our perspective in life can shift in that direction, even moreso than if and when we already have in the past. By “the past,” I do not only mean, before the corona virus, I mean even if we have never considered are ruchniyos (spirituality) throughout most of our lives. Because, without a godly focus to some extent, human beings, myself included, are too easily caught up in gashmios (materiality). However, we have the opportunity to reach out towards H’Shem, so that we may be drawn to Him.

When Moshe entered “the thick cloud” (Exodus 19:9) on Sinai, he was called even further, he “drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was” (Exodus 20:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). This serves as an example for us in our quest to grow closer to G-d. He is found within the darkness of our lives. We may ask ourselves when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives again. Yet, perhaps, there will be no preemptive parting of the clouds, not until we learn how to bear the challenges in our lives by using them as opportunities to seek G-d, so that His presence, may comfort us during our nisyanos (troubles). Then, we may enter back into the world, renewed with godly strength and vigour, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience, no matter how many days we may actually be on the mountain.