IN THE COMPANY OF ANGELS
"And Ya'acov dispatched angels/messengers ahead of him to meet his brother Esav in the fields of Edom in the Land of Seir." (Bereishis 32:4)
On the word "malachim" (which can mean angel or messenger), Rashi comments, "Angels, they were real angels".
This was Ya'acov's second encounter with angels. This is more than just an encounter. Apparently the angels were in his company on a regular basis, and were available to Ya'acov according to his needs.
One needs only to recall the events of the last few Parshios to see that the Avos and Imahos (patriarchs and matriarchs) were constantly in the company of angels. After the passing of the twelve brothers, the founders of the Tribes of Israel, angels do not appear anymore.
The work Gur Aryeh, a commentary on Rashi by the Maharal of Prague, takes up the issue of Angels in this weeks Parsha.
The Avos were singularly unusual people. Everything action that they took was for the sake of Klal Yisrael. They were totally public people, whose only concern was doing that which needed to be done to bring the Jewish nation into being. The concepts of Derech Eretz Kodma L'Torah, and Ma'aseh Avos Siman L'Banim, that have been discussed here in previous weeks, suggest that their every action was invested with lofty intentions.
Parshas Vayishlach contains a classic example of Ma'aseh Avos Siman L'Banim. Everything the Avos and Imahos did was to pave the way and to provide a lesson for the generations which came after them. Ya'acov prepared himself for his historic confrontation with Esav in three ways. He prepared gifts (bribes), he readied the army, and he prayed to Hashem for salvation. His goal in all this was to return to Eretz Yisroel and to his father. For such a crucial mission, only real angels could be suitable.
From here our sages learn a timeless lesson for the eventuality of having to confront unfriendly non-Jewish authorities. The Midrash relates that when Rebbi Yehuda the Prince went to Rome in around 192 C.E. to meet the Roman Emperor and try to influence his relationship with the Jews in the Holy Land, he studied this Parsha to learn how to approach him properly. Rebbi Yehuda's example was followed by countless Jewish leaders throughout our history. Diplomacy, not aggressiveness has always been a Jewish secret of survival.
The Maharal explains that the Avos and Imahos (including the 12 brothers) were the foundation; the operative principle for the creation of the world. Before the world was created, Hashem had the Avos in mind. Since the creation revolved around them, the model of the world reflects their presence in it.
Then the angels were put in the world. To be, as their name infers, attendants and messengers; to help facilitate the work of the world's caretakers. So it is only natural that the angels were found in the company of the Avos and Imahos. They were there do as they were bidden. Moshe Rabbenu on the other hand, although he was the greatest prophet, was not one of the founders of the world. A remarkable Midrash in Parshas Yisro illustrates this point.
When Moshe went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels took one look at him and tried to push him out. What did Hashem do to solve the problem? He changed the face of Moshe Rabbenu to a likeness of Avraham Avinu. "Don't you recognize him?", Hashem cajoled the angels. "After all the times you have already gone down to him, you still do not recognize him!?" They looked again, and upon seeing the likeness of Avraham, ceased their objections.
Only the Avos were worthy of having angels at their disposal for the purpose of forming the world for Klal Yisroel.
WHY YA'ACOV SENT ANGELSThe Pardes Yosef, quoting Rabenu Ya'acov Algazi, writes that Ya'acov had special intentions in sending real angels to meet his brother Esav.
1) Angels allude to the idea of Shalom, Peace. Ya'acov's desire was to make peace with Esav, not to vanquish him. The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh HaShanah chapt. 2) states that angels are composed of fire and water. The last verse of the Kaddish prayer states, "He who makes peace in the heavens, may he also make peace for us and all Yisrael." Making peace in the Heavens refers to the Angels. They are the epitome of peace since their very composition is the peaceful existence of two naturally antagonistic forces, water and fire.
By sending angels, Ya'acov was telling Esav that he wanted to make peace.
2) Esav held himself to be the firstborn. Ya'acov knew though that he himself was the real firstborn. Since the Avos were in the "mind" of Hashem when he created the world, Ya'acov knew that he was conceived first, from Yitzchok's first drop of semen. Since Ya'acov was the first to be conceived, he was second to be born. Rashi (Bereishis 25:26) compares the idea to a very narrow cylinder. Two stones were put in one after the other. The one put in first, will be the second one to come out. The one put in second will come out first. Esav who was conceived second, therefore was born first. Ya'acov who was born second, was actually conceived first. (See the Lecha Dodi prayer where the same expression is used concerning Shabbos; the last day to be created, but the ultimate purpose of all Hashem's creation.)
Angels were created before humankind; on the second day. People weren't created until the sixth day. Nevertheless Tzaddikim are greater than angels, since the angels are subservient to them.
Thus Ya'acov was hinting to Esav, just as these angels whom I am sending to you, even though they were created first, are nevertheless secondary to man, so does the right of the first born belong to me, even though you were the first to be born.
How do we know that the angels that Ya'acov sent were real angels? One of the most original answers is found in the Pardes Yosef. Ya'acov instructs his messengers to tell Esav, ". . .I lived with (my uncle) Lavan and I tarried there until now." (Bereishis 32:5)
On the word "I lived" (garti) Rashi comments the letters in the word garti are the numerical equivalent of 613, the number of mitzvos in the Torah. Ya'acov is telling Esav, "Although I lived with the wicked Lavan, I still kept all the mitzvos of the Torah."
As is known, when a person does a mitzvah, it creates an angel, an intercessor for him who will testify that the person did engage in mitzvos. Ya'acov, who managed to keep all the 613 mitzvos even under the most adverse circumstances, certainly created many angels. These were the angels that he dispatched to Esav; real angels.
THE PASSING AND THE BURIAL OF RACHEL IMAINU
"And Rachel died and they buried her on the way to Efrasa, in Beis Lechem. And Ya'acov erected a monument over her gravesite; it is the monument of Rachel's gravesite to this day." (Bereishis 35:19-20)
This idea is found in many commentaries. The verse does not read, ". . .it is the monument of Rachel to this day." Rachel herself did not need a monument. Tzaddikim don't need stone or wood monuments to perpetuate their memory. For Tzaddikim, the words they spoke and the deeds they did during their lifetimes are their everlasting monuments.
Therefore the monument that Ya'acov erected was the " . . .monument of Rachel's gravesite," a monument to mark the place.
If so, why did there need to be a monument erected at all? Ya'acov revealed this secret to Rachel's son, Yosef when he was close to his death. (Bereishis 48:7, and Rashi) Ya'acov was told by Hashem to bury Rachel there. It was revealed to him that there would be a time when the Jews would be forced into exile by the despot Nebuzedarin, and they would have to walk from Israel to Babylonia as in captivity. As they walk, they would pass by the site of Rachel's grave. As they pass by, she would weep for them, praying for a speedy end to their bitter exile. This is the meaning of Beis Lechem, the house of war. It alludes to the war that Rachel wages with the heavenly accusers, begging mercy from Hashem for her children.
It is also the meaning of the verse (Jeremiah 32:14-15), "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentations and bitter weeping, it is Rachel weeping for her children. . .there is yet hope that in the end the children will return to their borders."
Therefore Ya'acov put the monument over Rachel's grave. It serves as an eternal marker so that Jews will know that this is the place.
This is also the source for the custom of placing a stone on the grave after one visits. When Yaakov buried Rachel, the Agada tells that each of the 11 Tribes (besides Binyomin who had just been born) took a stone and placed it on her grave. Yaakov then took a large stone and placed it on top of all the other stones. Thus was formed the first monument on her grave.
The Tomb of Rachel is a place of prayer and hope. Even today it is a place where those in need, those who constantly experience the anguish of the bitter exile and those who feel that they are still wandering, not yet having arrived home, come to pray. They beseech Mother Rachel to intercede on their behalf and bring their prayers above.
M. Gardner, in the Yated Neeman email edition, Oct. 29, 1998 wrote the following.
Most of our mothers were no longer alive. Those who were raised in Yerushalayim had lost their mothers from the tribulations that visited the country in the decades before the War, and those who came from Europe, had lost them in the Nazi inferno. Everyone had grief piled up in her heart. So we traveled to cry out to our mother Rachel. We would travel in the Arab buses, and would enter the building and davven at length, telling her everything that was causing us sorrow. Afterwards we felt better."
Rachel, who died in childbirth, epitomizes the example of the Avos and Imahos , all of whom were barren and had to pray to Hashem for children. They were barren since Hashem desires the prayers of the Tzaddikim. Klal Yisrael came into being in a manner which was above and beyond the way of nature. The progeny of the Avos and Imahos were born as a result of the prayers of their parents, a reality which eternally connects us to the Creator of the World in the deepest and most absolute way.
A REAL JEWISH MOTHERThis story was told to me by a friend, Reb N. A. Brizel, a 5th generation Yerushalmi who heard it as a child. It took place about 90 - 100 years ago.
A renowned personage of the old Jewish settlement in Jerusalem was the holy R' Dovid Biederman, a scion of Rabbinic and Chassidic lineage. He was known as a Tzaddik among Tzaddikim. His only concern in life was whether or not he was living up to the expectations of his Creator.
Once, R' Dovid decided to undertake the arduous, almost day-long trek on donkey from Jerusalem to the gravesite of Rachel Imainu. He set out early in the morning, right after the conclusion of the sunrise minyan. The entire way he contemplated and organized the prayers he would say there. He wanted to be sure not to forget anything, since it was only infrequently that he had the opportunity to make the journey.
When he finally arrived he saw that was not alone. A woman with a number of small children had arrived previously and was making herself at home in the monument's domed chamber. She had already spread out a blanket and laid the youngest child down to sleep. When R' Dovid arrived she was busy preparing the evening meal.
R' Dovid was incredulous. Did she have no regard for the sanctity of the site? Didn't she realize where she was? How could this woman busy herself with such mundane matters in such a Holy place?
R' Dovid approached the woman and in a less than friendly tone demanded an explanation.
The weary woman looked up at R' Dovid from her seat on the floor and replied softly, "I would think that our Mother Rachel would be pleased that we are eating and resting here."
R' Dovid felt suddenly faint and uneasy. He realized that he had been making the journey to Rachel's Tomb for decades and had not even begun to understand what it represented. Here was a simple unlearned woman, yet she possessed a profound grasp of the true holiness of Rachel's Tomb. What had been be doing here all those years!? He now understood that Rachel was the mother who wept and prayed for her children. Her desire is only that we should have some relief, some comfort in life, some peace of mind in order to better serve Hashem.
From that day on, whenever R' Dovid travelled to the Tomb of Rachel, he made sure to bring with him a meal which he would share with all the others who came to entreat our mother Rachel to intercede for them and bring their prayers on high