Torah Weekly

For the week ending 5 December 2020 / 19 Kislev 5781

Parashat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Esav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Esav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Esav.

That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the Angel of Esav. Yaakov emerges victorious but is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural (the angel). Yaakov and Esav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Esav’s offer that they should dwell together.

Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakov’s daughter. In return for Dina’s hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakov’s sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement. However, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit milah. Shimon and Levi, two of Dina’s brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the city’s tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister.

G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivka’s nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. G-d appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Israel. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons. The Torah portion concludes by listing Esav’s descendants.


Air Thin

"And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esav, his brother."

Seeing is believing, but there is far more to see in this world than meets the human eye. Take the air that surrounds you, for example. The air seems empty enough, but take a not-so-powerful microscope and you’ll be amazed at how the emptiness of the air teems with all manner of minute particles.

And if you could go further than that, beyond the microscopic, if you’d go beyond the limits of human vision itself, you’d be even more amazed and possibly more than a little frightened.

The fact is that we are all surrounded by myriad incorporeal spiritual beings. Some of these beings are benevolent and others, well, let’s just say, they’re less than benevolent.

"And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esav, his brother.”

Why does the Torah include the phrase "before him"? Ostensibly, the sentence could have equally well been, "And Yaakov sent angels to Esav, his brother."

The Mishna (Avot, Chapter 4) tells us that if we do even one mitzvah, we acquire for ourselves a defending angel, and if we do one transgression we acquire a prosecuting angel. The mitzvah itself creates that spiritual entity (so inadequately translated into English by the word "angel"). Every mitzvah literally begets a holy angel.

As in the world beneath, so too it is in the world above.

A defense lawyer will do everything he can to show off his client in a good light, and, similarly, the angel born of a mitzvah pleads for his "client" before G-d’s throne in the Heavenly Realms. This angel tries his hardest to advance his client’s welfare, not only spiritually but materially too. This angel is really more like a son pleading on behalf of his father, for, like a son, he was created by his "father.”

Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Beit Yosef and author of the Shulchan Aruch, the standard compendium of Jewish law, would regularly learn the entire six orders of the Mishna by heart. It is well known that, as a result of this prodigious achievement, an angel would come and learn Torah with him. The book "Magid Meisharim" (lit. The Speaker of Straight Things) details what the angel taught him, and more. This book is still readily available to this day.

The Shelah Hakadosh in his commentary on Tractate Shavuot recounts an amazing story. One Shavuot, he and nine other Torah sages stayed up all night on both nights of Shavuot and they witnessed how the angel spoke with the Beit Yosef. It started speaking as follows: "I am the Mishna speaking in your throat."

The name of that angel was "Mishna," since that was the mitzvah that gave it life.

At the end of this lengthy testimony, all ten Sages, including Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (the composer of the famous Shabbat song Lecha Dodi that is sung in synagogues every Friday night the world over) signed an authentication of what they had seen and heard.

"And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esav, his brother"

Yaakov didn’t want to employ the services of those angels who stand before G-d’s throne. He sent only angels that were the offspring of his good deeds, the ones that were "before him."

  • Source: Lev Eliyahu

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