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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5779

Parashat Hashavua: An Angel of a Man

Harav Yosef Carmel

Last week we discussed different possibilities raised in midrashim and commentaries about who Yaakov’s “brothers,” who took part in the tense interactions between Yaakov and Lavan, were. This week we will humbly raise another possibility, which also connects those events to the events of Parashat Vayishlach.

We will remember that Lavan pursued Yaakov with the intention to cause physical harm but left kissing his daughters and grandchildren, after making a pact with Yaakov. What was the cause of the change of heart in Lavan? It is possible to claim that Hashem’s appearance before Lavan, instructing him to not harm Yaakov, was behind the change. However, given that Lavan was far from a G-d-fearer, it is surprising that this would change his attitude.

We will suggest that another event, which is alluded to at the end of ch. 31 and finds more detailed expression in ch. 32, actually had an impact on Lavan. “Yaakov went along his way, and he was met by malachei Elokim. Yaakov said when he saw them: ‘This is an encampment of Hashem,’ and he called the place Machanayim” (Bereishit 32:2-3). Immediately thereafter, we have the opening pasuk of our parasha, in which Yaakov sent malachim to Eisav.

The expression “Yaakov went along his way” indicates that while he had already been on the path since leaving Lavan’s house, now Yaakov was not running, but walking (i.e., travelling normally). This is because he met malachei Elokim. We venture to say that these were not angels but hundreds of men, capable of fighting, among other things, who were waiting 20 years for this moment. They were disciples of Avraham and Yitzchak, who were very disappointed when Yaakov, who could have been their leader, as the mentor of those who serve Hashem, had to temporarily abdicate his leadership role so that he could flee Eisav by running to Charan.

We point out that Ibn Ezra translates malachim in this context as messengers or agents, not as angels. These were agents who did that which was correct in the eyes of Hashem. They came just at the right time, when Yaakov was meeting Lavan, and they gave Yaakov the confidence that he would be able to survive the tensions with Lavan. They also were those who changed Lavan’s mind, as he saw that Yaakov was no longer an easy target. These were the “brothers” of Yaakov who took part in the ceremonious eating with Lavan. The pact with Lavan was no longer entered into with Lavan being the stronger party. These malachim were the ones that Yaakov used to send to Eisav and the ones who made it possible to prepare for war if necessary with him.

Peace is possible primarily when one goes into the situation from a position of power, so that the other side realizes that war is not worthwhile for them. May Hashem bless His nation with peace!  
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