Friday, December 09, 2011
VaYishlach 5631 First Ma'amar
“וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו .../Ya’akov sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Eisav …” (Breishis 32:4) The word מַלְאָכִים/messengers also means angels. The Midrash tells us that the messengers Ya’akov Avinu sent to Eisav were actual angels. Why did Ya’akov send angels to meet Eisav?
To answer this question we must understand what angels signify. Chazal teach us that we create an angel each time we do a mitzvah. The angels that Ya’akov sent to Eisav represented Ya’akov’s mitzvos. Why did Ya’akov feel compelled to send his “mitzvah angels” to Eisav? Angels are the vehicle through which God directs nature. Our mitzvos affect nature. The means by which our mitzvos affect nature is through the angels that our mitzvos create.
Meeting Eisav and, for that matter, traveling to Lavan represent Ya’akov entering and interacting with the physical world. Ya’akov himself was on a level above nature. He connected to God without the need for mitzvos and their effects (i.e. the angels). However, when he lowered himself into the physical world he needed the mitzvos and their power to affect the physical world around him and to bring him close to God even from within the natural world. This idea is clear in a pasuk in Tehillim (91:11), “כִּי מַלְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה-לָּךְ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בְּכָל-דְּרָכֶיךָ/For He will command His angels on your behalf to guard you in all your ways.” The angels/mitzvos will protect you as you move through the material world.
We see this concept clearly in the relationship between Shabbos and the days of the week. On Shabbos the physical world automatically becomes closer to its spiritual roots. In fact, Shabbos as a concept represents this connectedness to the spiritual. This is why Ya’akov who was on a level above nature in his connectedness to God, represents an aspect of Shabbos. We have the ability to reach this spiritual level during the week as well but it requires work. It requires a high level of mitzvah observance. In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that the pasuk “שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל-מְלַאכְתֶּךָ/Six days shall you labor and accomplish all your work” (Shmos 20:9,10) refers specifically to the mitzvos. Significantly the word מַלְאָךְ/angel has the same root as the word מְלָאכָה/work. We spend the days of the week doing מְלָאכָה/work (i.e. mitzvos) to create מַלְאָכִים/angels.
In order to interact with Eisav representing the physical world, Ya’akov Avinu had to send his מַלְאָכִים/messengers, his mitzvos, which affect the physical world, to afford him protection. We learn from Ya’akov Avinu that each of us has the ability to immerse and act in the physical world, really to use the physical world, to come close to God. We are intimately connected with the way the world works both spiritually and physically. The Zohar says that our 613 limbs and tendons – 248 limbs and 365 tendons – parallel 613 specific spiritual forces in the world. There are also 613 mitzvos in the Torah – 248 positive mitzvos and 365 negative mitzvos. Each time we do a mitzvah we rectify that part of the Creation associated with the specific limb and activate that spiritual force that conforms to that mitzvah. We create an “angel.” In this way we remove God’s concealment and come close to Him from within the physical world.
Spiritually, Ya’akov Avinu’s successful return from Lavan and Eisav represents an ascent from a level of weekday work to a level of Shabbos. This is why the Midrash in this week’s parsha explains that Ya’akov Avinu entered the land of Israel and came to Shechem on Erev Shabbos. He prepared for Shabbos and kept it before it was given. This is also the reason the pasuk says, “וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם .../Ya’akov came safely to the city of Shechem …” (Breishis 33:18) שָׁלֵם/Safely also means “whole.” His successful return from Eisav and Lavan represents a spiritual completeness. It also suggests Shabbos as the Zohar says that Shabbos is שָׁלוֹם/peace which has the same root as שָׁלֵם/complete. As Ya’akov, may we merit connecting to God through the mitzvos even as we live and work within the physical world.