Shabbat Vayeytzey : Angels

November 12, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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Angels figure prominently in Jacob’s life. As he runs away from Esau, he sleeps and dreams. He sees angels climb up and down a ladder.

Then after living with Laban, marrying, and siring children he headed back home. Laban pursued him but finally made peace. After he departs, Jacob meets more angels at a place called Machanayim and later before meeting Esau he will have a struggle with another angel.  What are angels? And why do they appear at times of crisis?

The Hebrew word for angel is  Malach. It means a messenger. And whether it is  Abraham, Jacob, or Josef they all see them as human beings. It is the message that results from these encounters that convinces them that these human beings represent a wider spiritual chain of events. From a logical point of view, angels do not make sense. How can something be both physical and non-physical except in a person’s imagination? Yet the idea of angels plays an important role in conveying values and ideas, in trying to explain the relationship between God and humanity.

We are surrounded by negative and positive forces and messages. How do we differentiate between them? Sometimes it is obvious. At others, it is not. For example, some people try to destroy us as individuals and as a people, both by physical violence and by political and ideological opposition. Others support and defend us. Within us too, there are conflicting urges and ideas. And we have to battle with them. Some argue that this is the distinction and the conflict between an Esau, a man of violence, and a Laban, a man of guile and deception, appearing to be honest but not.

How do we differentiate between right and wrong? We cannot depend on God intervening all the time to solve our problems. We have to distinguish ourselves between what is right and what is wrong, what is truth and what is not. Sometimes we can do this ourselves. But often we may need some help or inspiration. We should consider angels to be metaphors for ideas and values that can help us see what the right course of action is. So that we do rely only on the revealed text of our tradition. Sometimes a little help from other humans helps us react and cope.

Another way of understanding angels is to see them as reinforcing existing values. So that although Abraham has been promised the Land of Israel, he, Isaac, and Jacob had to leave because of famine or war. The angels in the Torah appear when they are leaving the Land of Israel and returning. Emphasizing how important the Land of Israel is to us even if we live outside it or leave it either through compulsion or in search of a livelihood.

Genesis 29.10- 31.43

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