Angels of Peace

Vayishlah By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Nov 27, 2012 / 5773

This week’s parashah opens with the rising tension between Jacob and Esau. Having parted ways some 20 years earlier, these angst-ridden brothers are about to encounter each other once again. Jacob has successfully escaped from the shackles of Lavan’s home, and as he approaches the Land of Israel, he hears that his brother Esau awaits with 400 men. Jacob is rightfully anxious about the imminent reunion. And so, as a means of appeasing his brother, Jacob begins a process of rapprochement. Our parashah opens: “Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom and instructed them as follows, ‘Thus will you say, “To my lord Esau, thus says your servant Jacob: I stayed with Lavan . . . I have acquired cattles, asses, sheep . . . and I send this message to my lord in the hope of gaining your favor”’” (Gen. 32:4). Who are the “messengers” (mal’akhim) that Jacob commissions? And how will they work toward bringing peace to the strained relationship of these brothers?

Rashi, the prolific medieval commentator writes that Jacob did not send just any messengers to his brother Esau, but indeed he commissioned real mal’akhim (angels), to engage in this task. Rashi reads the word mal’akhim literally, not in its sense of messengers but rather in meaning angels. Embracing this powerful and poetic commentary, Rav Shmuel Avidor HaCohen writes,

This comes to teach us that if one truly wants to achieve peace, one cannot rely on routine emissaries. Such people have their own interests at heart and they are liable to fuel the fire rather than bring peace. For the achievement of peace, one needs to rely on angels commissioned from above. For they are truly lacking in jealousy, contempt and petty competition.” (HaCohen, Likrat Shabbat [in Hebrew], 36)

Although it is nearly impossible to find such angelic emissaries in this world, bitter conflicts require that we go the extra mile. Shmuel Avidor HaCohen is correct in citing self-interests as the culprit in perpetuating conflict. Angelic personalities, if not angelic beings, are capable of changing the world for the better. One cannot help but think of the conclusion of last week’s confrontation in Israel. Angels arrived in the personalities of diplomats scurrying to bring about a cease-fire. And, thankfully, they succeeded.

As we enter the coming Shabbat, we hope and pray that Israel’s South, like our ancestor Jacob, will merit dwelling in peace. Once Jacob parts ways from Esau, there is a sense of relative calm. May such calm envelop the State of Israel and the entire Jewish world now and for many years to come.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.