Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Other Instances of "Malachim" - Angels or Humans?

In the previous post, which was centered on parashat Vayeira, I discussed Ralbag's assertion that the malachim who visited Avraham, and who destroyed Sedom, were actually prophets.

This brings us to this week's parsha and next week's parsha. In Vayeitzei, Yaakov has a dream and sees malachim ascending and descending a ladder. And at the end of the same parasha, Yaakov meets a camp of malachim. And at the beginning of Vayishlach, Yaakov sends malachim.

How would Ralbag handle each of these?

I will provide a Ralbag excerpt. At the end of Vayeitzei, Ralbag writes:

"And Yaakov went on his way, to return to the land of his fathers, and he encountered a few of the prophets of the generation, or else angels of God appeared to him in a prophecy. And the first explanation is more apparent, for we do not [sic] find in this place a story of prophecy. And Yaakov said, when he saw them, this is an encampment of God, and for this reason he called the name of that place Machanayim (dual of camp), for there he was another encampment, which was to God, in addition to his own encampment which was also to/for God."

Do we indeed find this idea of an encampment of prophets? I would say that indeed we do, in I Shmuel 10, when Shaul ben Kish encounters a band of prophets:
ה אַחַר כֵּן, תָּבוֹא גִּבְעַת הָאֱלֹהִים, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם, נְצִבֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים; וִיהִי כְבֹאֲךָ שָׁם הָעִיר, וּפָגַעְתָּ חֶבֶל נְבִאִים יֹרְדִים מֵהַבָּמָה, וְלִפְנֵיהֶם נֵבֶל וְתֹף וְחָלִיל וְכִנּוֹר, וְהֵמָּה מִתְנַבְּאִים. 5 After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines; and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they will be prophesying.
ו וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ יְהוָה, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר. 6 And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.

and then:
י וַיָּבֹאוּ שָׁם הַגִּבְעָתָה, וְהִנֵּה חֶבֶל-נְבִאִים לִקְרָאתוֹ; וַתִּצְלַח עָלָיו רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, וַיִּתְנַבֵּא בְּתוֹכָם. 10 And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a band of prophets met him; and the spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he prophesied among them.
יא וַיְהִי, כָּל-יוֹדְעוֹ מֵאִתְּמוֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם, וַיִּרְאוּ, וְהִנֵּה עִם-נְבִאִים נִבָּא: {ס} וַיֹּאמֶר הָעָם אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ, מַה-זֶּה הָיָה לְבֶן-קִישׁ--הֲגַם שָׁאוּל, בַּנְּבִיאִים. 11 And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied with the prophets, {S} then the people said one to another: 'What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?'
יב וַיַּעַן אִישׁ מִשָּׁם וַיֹּאמֶר, וּמִי אֲבִיהֶם; עַל-כֵּן הָיְתָה לְמָשָׁל, הֲגַם שָׁאוּל בַּנְּבִאִים. 12 And one of the same place answered and said: 'And who is their father?' Therefore it became a proverb: 'Is Saul also among the prophets?'
יג וַיְכַל, מֵהִתְנַבּוֹת, וַיָּבֹא, הַבָּמָה. 13 And when he had made an end of prophesying, he came to the high place.
So indeed, there is a concept of a band of prophets. And note the word used for encountering them:
וּפָגַעְתָּ חֶבֶל נְבִאִים

Compare with וַיִּפְגְּעוּ-בוֹ מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים at the end of Vayeitzei. But on the other hand, compare with vayifga bamakom in the beginning of the parsha, where he saw the malachim in the dream, whatever type of malachim those were. If angels, it makes for a rather nice local parallel and framing. And Ralbag does consider angels as a possibility, if not necessarily the preferred choice.

In terms of the malachim Yaakov sends to Esav in next week's parsha, Ralbag explicitly says that they are human messengers, shluchim, rather than saying that they are malachim mamash.

What about in terms of the malachim of Yaakov's dream, in the beginning of the parsha? Ralbam just calls them malachim. But he does not call them neviim, which makes me think that he considers them to be angels. And add to this that here, at the end of Vayeitzei, he has absolutely no problem with angels, assuming that these angels are not walking around in meatspace but rather perceived in a prophecy or dream. So it seems safe to say that he maintains that these were angels Yaakov perceived in his vision, which was also why they were ascending and descending the stairway to heaven.

Note: I apologize to those awaiting replies to comments. I am swamped at the moment.

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