This week's parasha is entitled Vayishlach, which means, "And he sent." In Hebrew, its opening statement is much more startling than in the English translations with which we satisfy ourselves. In Hebrew, it opens with these words, "And then Jacob sent angels ahead of him to Esau his brother." We have this mindset that angels are gigantic heavenly beings who are sent only by G-d to accomplish His divine purposes. But the letter to the Jewish believers says, in Hebrew 1:14, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation?" Jacob understood this and so when he encountered the angels of G-d, according to last week's portion in Genesis 32: 2 (verse 1 in most English translations), he sent them on a mission to accomplish G-d's divine plan in the life of he and his estranged brother. In Hebrew, often times the word "angel" is translated into English as "messenger." Sometimes this translation practice removes us from the wonders of G-d.
Well, these angels returned to Jacob and told him that Esau was indeed coming toward him and that with him were 400 men. This put fear into the heart of Jacob. Now, consider that this man had just encountered the angels of HaShem and had boldly sent them on a mission and yet when they returned, he was frightened, not of G-d nor of His messengers, but of his brother, a mere man. I believe that we too are often fearful of things which have little sway in our lives while ignoring the fear of the L-rd which is the beginning of all wisdom; or at least it could be if we only understood it.
Jacob took his family and sent them across the river Jabok. He remained alone that night and there he wrestled with a man. But just who was this man? The Rabbis say that he was the guardian angel of Esau and that every nation has such a divine messenger., assigned to cover its charge with protection. But I have a problem with this assignment. You see, in the midst of the struggle, Jacob demands a blessing from this Divine Messenger and the one with whom he is fighting changes his name! And in the explanation of his new name, which is Israel, this messenger explains, ""Your name will no longer be Jacob," He said. "It will be Israel because you have struggled with G-d and with men and have prevailed." Now, Jacob had wrestled with a man all night long, but this man identified Himself as G-d and yet as also a man. Was this a pore-advent of the One whose birth we will soon celebrate? Perhaps it was. In fact, when confronted with Jewish skepticism about the divinity of Y'shua, I point to this example from the Torah in which a man is identified as G-d.
Another interesting and oft overlooked little gem in this portion is found in chapter 33 where Esau and Jacob finally meet and find themselves in each others arms, reunited after many years of fear and of hatred that separated them. Jacob gives Esau a huge gift and Esau replies in verse 9, "I Have plenty." But Jacob, sho has wrestled with G-d and been found victorious tells him in verse 11, "'Please take my present that was brought to you, because G-d has been gracious to me and I have everything .' So Jacob urged him until he accepted." Esau had plenty but Israel had everything.
Notice too that although his name had been changed already, the text refers to him as Jacob, not as Israel. Interestingly, it is only when he is in the Promised Land that he is referred to as Israel, outside, he is always called Jacob. So this gives us insight into the reason that G-d speaks of Israel and Jacob throughout scripture as He refers to the Jewish people. He speaks to those within the Land and to those of us who are scattered in the Diaspora.
There is much more to learn from this portion, but time is short and there is much to do in preparation for the next week. So, please read the teaching about the birth of the One with whom Jacob wrestled and be blessed as you bless those whom G-d places in your path. Perhaps you will entertain angels unaware.