Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Angels or messengers?

Summary: There is a famous Rashi which starts of Vayishlach that the malachim Yaakov sent were malachim mamash, actual angels. This likely relates to the camp of malachei elokim from the previous parsha. But as Ibn Caspi points out, the parsha gap, or else the petucha gap makes it clear that there is a distinction. Though that is just an indicator, rather than the real reason. Also, how Ralbag and Sefer Hayashar treat the malachim of this parasha and last.

The parsha begins with Yaakov sending malachim. Bereishit 32:

ד  וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם.
4 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

Certainly the simplest reading is to have them as messengers. They don't do anything miraculous, but just convey Yaakov's greetings, and presents, to Esav. And Yaakov wrestles with an angel, and that is a big deal. And Yaakov saw encampments of angels, and that was a big enough deal to name the place. These malachim just seem to commonplace.

While several meforshim indeed explain them as normal messengers (see e.g. the Targumim, Ralbag, Ibn Ezra), Rashi cites the midrash that these were actual malachim, that is, angels:

Jacob sent angels: Heb. מַלְאָכִים, literally angels (Gen. Rabbah 75:4).

וישלח יעקב מלאכים: מלאכים ממש:

This is based on Midrash Rabba, where both positions are given:


אלו שלוחי בשר ודם.

רבנן אמרי:

מלאכים ממש.

The midrash actually continues, addressing the thematic point that these angels appearance is so humdrum. Compare with Hagar's malach, and Yosef's malach. These were angels, but they were so used to angels that this was a commonplace occurrence. Still, on a peshat level, I think that human messengers works out better.

What should influence us to think that these are angels rather than human messengers? Well, for one thing, the juxtaposition. Midrash Tanchuma makes this point explicitly:

ומהיכן היו המלאכים?
ראה מה כתיב למעלה: ויאמר יעקב כאשר ראם מחנה אלהים זה.

מהו מחנים?

שתי מחנות, שבשעה שהלך יעקב לארם נהריים היו מלאכי א"י משמרין אותו ומלוין אותו, כיון שהגיעו לחו"ל נסתלקו וירדו אחרים ונתלוו לו.
כיון שחזר מן לבן היו אותן מלאכים שנמסרו לו מלוין אותו עד ארץ ישראל, כשהרגישו מלאכי ארץ ישראל שיעקב בא, יצאו לקראתו להתלוות לו, שנאמר: ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלהים,. התחילו שתי מחנות עומדין אצל יעקב שנאמר: מחנים.

מה עשה?

שלח מהן בשליחותו, מיד הלכו וקדמו לעשו ועשו עצמן כשני ראשי גייסות. 

and so on and so forth. And so these are angels from heaven, which he just saw in the encampments of angels, and now he is sending them in agency to Esav.

So the juxtaposition does it. But not every juxtaposition is meaningful. See what Ibn Caspi writes:
נראה לי שלא היה דבר מזה בשנה כלל, ולכן הפסיקו
בזה אנשי כנסת הגדולה, וזר, נמשך עד ויותר יעקב לבדו (פסוק כ"ה),ש
כי אותו הענין היה בשנה בחלום של נבואה עד ויזרח לו
השמש, כי ויאבק איש עמו היה כענין מלאך ה׳ שנראה לשמשון
ששאל לו שמו (שיפטים י"ג י״ז) ונענה לו, ואחר שהקיץ נשאר לו
החולי הנזכר ר"ל חולי גיד הנשה, וביאיר זה יותר נמצא בגביע
Ibn Caspi is of the opinion that both sidra divisions and petucha and setuma divisions were enacted by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly. And if we look at the preceding pasuk, we will see that it ends with a petucha:

ג  וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָם, מַחֲנֵה אֱלֹהִים זֶה; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, מַחֲנָיִם.  {פ}
3 And Jacob said when he saw them: 'This is God's camp.' And he called the name of that place Mahanaim. {P}

And indeed, that is where the new sidra begins. If the juxtaposition were meaningful, why put the break right there? If fact, the perakim we have nowadays were instituted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. And he begins the perek at pasuk 1, where Lavan leaves, but with the effect of this continuous flow from machanayim to Yaakov's malachim. But we don't have this.

Of course, this is not solid proof of Moshe Rabbenu's intent. After all, Ibn Caspi considers these breaks to be the work of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. And that is why he doesn't give this as concrete proof, but just shows that they agree with him. His own motivation is the distinction between waking-state and dream-state. Yaakov's witnessing of the camps of angels, it would seem, would be a prophetic vision in a dream. And his wrestling with the angel as well, with the physical harm to his gid hanasheh being lasting harm after he awoke from his dream-state. But sending messengers to Esav would happen in the daytime, with real people. And so of course the malachim he sent must have been human beings.

Last year, I discussed Ralbag. He would not really be overly concerned with the connection between the previous parsha and the present one. For he considers the camps of malachei elokim to be bands of prophets. And the malachim in this week's parsha to be human beings. This year, I also happened to notice that Sefer HaYashar, as well, has the malachim of the previous narrative as human messengers, these from Rivkah.

1 comment:

Milhouse Trabajo said...

the simple reading of the story is clearly that these messengers were normal people, as otherwise why would the last reference to "angels" be to "Malachi Elokim" just a few pesukim before this story (the elokim is supposed to mean something no? though of course Ralbag reads that differently too). so wouldnt the simple meaning of the word "malachim" be normal human messengers (thus the need for the qualifier "elokim")? this made me wonder why the medrash said Rabanan amri Malachim "mamish", shouldnt it say malachei "elokim" as an explanation, and also maybe say "Ve" to indicate argument vs the initial opinion (see midrash here at Part Daled: http://daat.ac.il/daat/olam_hatanah/mefaresh.asp?book=1&perek=32&mefaresh=raba)?

when i first read Rashi's reference to "mamish", i actually wondered whether he meant messengers of "Substance" i.e. humans, as opposed to the malachei elokim from earlier. of course the rest of the midrash continues to discuss angels, so it seems that the Rabbanan were probably referring to angels, but IF NOT FOR THAT, this would be an interesting pilpul and minimization of machlokes...


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