motzei Shabbos: Chevlei Moshiach

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayishlach 5782 – Chevlei Moshiach (Birthpangs of Messiah)

“She called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”

 – Genesis 35:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

On the way from Beth-el to Eprath, Rachel went into labor with great hardship. The midwife assured her, that she would indeed have a son. As Rachel’s soul was expiring, she named her son, Ben-oni, meaning, “son of my sorrow.” However, Jacob named him Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” The intent of Jacob, in emphasizing the positive side of the birth, was to reaffirm the sanctity of life. May our eyes be opened to this truth. Despite the tragic circumstances of the birth of Benjamin, the positive was emphasized, without diminishing the loss.

Even so, Jacob was distressed by the passing of Rachel, who died while giving birth to Benjamin. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking about the Keitz (the End of Days) alludes to Jacob’s distress, whereas he says, “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob, but out of it shall he be saved” (Jeremiah 30:4-7). The sages explain that this prophecy refers to the chevlei Mashiach (birthpangs of Messiah). As mentioned in the Talmud, the time that precedes the reign of the Messiah from Jerusalem will be a period of diminished light, immorality, and lack of social cohesion (as mentioned in Sanhedrin 97a).

Yet, K’lal Yisrael, when standing within the light of H’Shem will prevail. “Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob My servant, saith the L-RD; neither be dismayed, O Israel; for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall again be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the L-RD, to save thee” (Jeremiah 30:10-11, JPS).

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.