Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayishlach
To dedicate this lesson

Angel on My Shoulder


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Kislev 17 5781
Do you believe in angels?

While we (presumably) can't see them, they apparently are quite prolific. In fact, the hero of our Sedra, Yakov, seems to encounter them on a regular basis. When he dreamt his famous "ladder" dream, there they were, ascending and descending. When he left Lavan's house and headed to Eretz Yisrael, the angels accompanied him. And our parsha begins by noting that Yakov sent angels to Esav in preparation for their meeting; they return and warn him that Esav is approaching with a rather substantial army.

My friend FE was quite puzzled by the fact that Yakov seemed to be able to command the angels; wasn't that Hashem's province alone? Can a human being really connect to a supernatural being, even direct them to help him?

Perhaps the text itself can guide us. When the angels met Yakov before he departed for Israel, the pasuk says "Vayif'g'u bo malachei Elokim - the angels of G-d encountered him." This word, "Vayif'g'u" is the very same word the Torah uses when Yakov had his iconic dream. There, Rashi says the word means "prayer," i.e. that Yakov prayed. I suggest that the Torah is hinting to us that when we pray - or study Torah or perform Mitzvot - we create angels! Our own, personal, private angels. This is what Rav Eliezer was saying (Pirkei Avot 4:12) when he declares: "Every time you do a Mitzva, you acquire a defender; every time you sin, you acquire an accuser." Who could these defenders and accusers be if not angels?!

But wait! If Yakov had a band of angels with him, angels that he could even give directions to, why was he "terrified and afraid?" Why did he have to prepare for war, splitting his family into camps and expecting the worst? Why didn't he just let his angels duke it out with Esav?

The answer seems clear to me: True, we have angels, and lots of them. Their task is to inspire us, to motivate us, to accompany us and to be there by our side wherever we go - especially in times of crisis. But they want us to fight our own fight, to use our own skills and strengths to do acts of Chesed and battle injustice, to make our mark in the world, to fall and then get up again as we travel life's highways. Yes, they may at times ask their master, Hashem, to give us a little push, or make sure that we don't fall too far. But the real work in this world is human, not angelic. Yakov understood that, and so he did what he had to do to survive, and to prevail.

You may not be able to see them or hear them, but if you close your eyes and open your soul, you'll surely feel that you've been touched by an angel.
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