Angels in Our Midst

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Within the Torah’s depiction of the encounter between Yaakov and Esav lay many lessons for our survival in dealing with this physical enemy called Edom, and the more arduous battle against its spiritual representation, our ultimate adversary — the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination.

Yaakov’s initial reaction is to send a message to his brother through מלאכים. Malachim is a term used throughout the Torah to describe either a mortal agent or an angel. Rashi offers the opinion in the Midrash that here it refers to, מלאכים ממש — ‘real malachim’, intimating angels. 

Why are angels more real than mortal proxies? The usage of the word malach simply alludes to a representative, at times a physical one, at times an ethereal one, what makes one more ‘real’ than the other? Rashi should have simply stated ‘a heavenly agent’.

In the immediate two previous verses, the Torah describes how upon Yaakov’s return to the Land of Israel from Charan he encounters ‘angels of G-d’, wondering aloud, “this is a G-dly camp?” He names that place for posterity, Machanaim, in commemoration of having met up with a מחנה אל, a G-dly camp. 

Rashi notes, that although Yaakov seemingly only came upon one camp, he nevertheless calls it Machanaim in the plural. Quoting the Tanchuma, he explains, this alludes to the additional ‘camp of angels’ that accompanied him on his journey from outside the land, thus ‘two camps’.

The great sixteenth century Italian scholar and rabbinic leader, Rav Azaryah Figo, elaborates on the significance of these two distinct camps of angels.

The Mishna in Avos (4 11) teaches that for every deed one performs, an ‘advocate’— a protective angel, is created. These were the myriad of angels, that were generated through the extraordinary accomplishments Yaakov attained in the face of great challenge, that escorted Yaakov in all his travels and endeavors. The angels who greeted him upon his entry to the land were heavenly emissaries that were dispatched by G-d Himself.

He claims that it was specifically from this cadre of self-generated angels that he enlisted his ‘real agents’ in his face down with Esav. The angels that are born from one’s own initiative are ‘greater advocates’ than those provided by G-d.

Yaakov knew that beneath his ‘agents’ superficial presentation of an olive branch towards his brother Esav, lay a compelling spiritual force that would hopefully arouse his erstwhile evil sibling to sensing a higher reality.

The saintly Chidushei HaRim explains that when Yaakov commands his proxies saying, “when my brother Esav meets you and asks you, saying, ‘Whose are you, where are you going, and who are these that are before you?’, he is implying that Esav will sincerely reflect in a fleeting moment of repentant clarity, and parallel the profound words of Akavya ben Mehalalel, who taught: Consider three things and you will not come to the grip of sin:  ‘Whence you came?’; ‘whither you go’; ‘and before Whom you will give justification and reckoning?’ (Avos 3 1)

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the notion of a מלאך is related to the word מלאכה, because just as a מלאך is the executor of the thought and intention of another, so מלאכה, is a thing which has become the bearer and executor of the thought and intention of the mind. Every material to which a directing mind has given a form conforming to a definite purpose, by giving that form, becomes the one who brings about the מלאכה of that mind, its actual messenger, it serves as the bearer of the thought and intention of that mind.

Rav Yaakov Zvi Mecklenberg in his masterful work, HaKsav V’Hakabalah, adds that the Mechilta D’Rashbi cites sources that G-d Himself is referred to as a מלאך, as He is the conveyer of all ultimate thought, intention, plan, and purpose in the world. 

The purer the transmission by the emissary of the original intent of the dispatcher, the greater is his representation as a ‘real’ מלאך!

Perhaps that is Rashi’s intent. An angel who has no ‘self’ embodies the ‘authentic’ intention of the Sender. A mortal may be called a מלאך, but rarely can he portray his sender fully.

May I boldly suggest that even according to the other opinion that Yaakov sent human representatives, perhaps they too, as loyal disciples of their selfless teacher, mastered the ability to serve as מלאכים ממש — accurate and tangible representation of their illustrious mentor Yaakov, and able to inspire Esav perforce the brilliant persona of Yaakov that embodied the pure thought and intention of G-d.  

Even humans can become מלאכים ממש — ‘real’ angels!

Fifty-seven years ago, I celebrated my Bar Mitzva this very Shabbos of Parshas VaYishlach. My beloved parents, of blessed memory, hosted our greater family in a hotel for Shabbos — in those days a novelty — culminating with a marvelous Melava Malka attended by many of my parents’ friends and associates.

In addition to having hired the world-renowned Chazan, Reb Dovid Werdyger — the ‘D’ in MBD — to perform, they engaged the services of the famed and beloved Badchan, Reb Chaim Mendel Mermelstein. Although I remember not a word of my pshet’l — my Bar Mitzvah speech, nor can I recall the leining of my parshah, but I will never forget a clever and charming ‘vort’ he conveyed. 

My father’s name is משה, and my mother’s is שיינדל מרים. He noted that the first letters of their names spell out the word — ממש! He went on elaborating about the beautiful attributes of my parents, and how indeed they were מלאכים ממשreal angels!  

At the age of thirteen, it was merely a cute allusion, but from the perspective of fifty-seven years, observing a lifetime of the devotion of my parents to family, community, Torah and G-d, I realize how fortunate I have been to be a child of מלאכים ממש.

Over sixty years ago, my mother a’h had served as the National President of Emunah Women of America, formerly known as HaPoel HaMizrachi. Despite still raising her family, and being a supportive wife to my father a’h, who owned a busy accounting firm, she undertook this position because she had a love for Eretz Yisroel and passionately believed in their original mission statement ‘to help alleviate the burdens of Israel’s social problems, to strengthen Israeli society through excellent education for children and adults, and to provide emergency services to its citizens during times of crisis.’ She was an articulate and eloquent speaker; whose warm nature and endearing personality inspired the hearts of many.

She eventually relinquished her position to a lifelong friend. Many speculated that she gave it up to devote her energies to her family and husband. I subsequently discovered the straw that broke the camel’s back. Evidently there was some internal politics within the Mizrachi party, the political party the organization was affiliated with, where many felt that within the directorship there were those reluctant to heed the guidance of their rabbinic leadership. It was at that point she decided she could not represent those who did not adhere unequivocally to Torah authority.

A מלאך is only as effective as it reflects the intention of the one it represents. She was truly a מלאך ממש!

יהי זכרם ברוך

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