Bands of Angels

Moshe Kempinski

Jacob, our forefather, was fleeing from his house. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt. He is fatigued and drained and he falls asleep on a rock in the middle of the field.

It is then that G-d reveals to him a powerful image and deeply impacting metaphor: “And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it. ” ( Genesis 28:12 )

That ladder is a powerful metaphor of faith, empowerment and eternal hope. Yet we want to focus on another metaphor and image in Jacob’s dream, “and behold, angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it. ”

Rashi in his commentary explains the image in the following manner;”ascending and descending: Ascending first and afterwards descending. The angels who escorted him in the [Holy] Land do not go outside the Land, and they ascended to heaven, and the angels of outside the Holy Land descended to escort him.[Midrash Rabba Breishit 68:12]

Why would two different bands of angels be necessary?

Furthermore as we will see on his return many years later, this phenomenon will reappear.

“And Jacob went on his way, and angels of G-d met him.( Ibid 32:2).We are taught in these words that Angels of Israel came to greet him to escort him to the land. (Rashi)

In fact we read further that this encounter moves Jacob to name the place Machanayim (in the plural- two camps)

“And Jacob said when he saw them, “This is the camp of G-d,” and he named the place Mahanaim” ( ibid :3).

Rashi again explains that there were two camps ; one of the angels from outside the land, who accompanied him and one of the Angels of Israel who greeted him.(Tanchuma Vayishlach 3)

Again we must ask why two differing groups of Angels were necessary?

In order to explore this question we need to understand what and who angels are.

We read of angels from the beginning of the biblical text:
And He drove the man out, and He stationed from the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.( ibid 3:L24)

We see angels appearing throughout the Biblical texts revealing and delivering G-d’s message, warnings or blessings. Yet Angels are creatures without free choice. They are not independent agents and cannot do anything unless sent by G-d.

In fact they each have an individual and singular purpose which will vary from angel to angel

We see this clearly when Abraham meets the three angels;
“And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. 🙁 ibid 18:2)

Rashi explains why three angels had to appear; “and behold, three men: One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands” (Gen. Rabbah 50:2). Rashi goes on to prove his contention based on the verses that follow.

Yet the important point is to understand that each angel is given but one mission and he is not given to choice to accept or ignore his mission.

To better understand angels then, it is better to see them as “the message” rather than as “the messenger”.

They simply bear the word and purpose of G-d. That is the reason for their existence, to deliver “the message” from the Heavens.

We can now return to our initial question.

Why would two different bands of angels be necessary?
The essential difference between the spiritual experience of Israel and that of Chutz LeAretz ( Exile) is that G-d is heard differently in each place. G-d is truly everywhere yet experiencing His Presence is palpably different in those two locations.

Israel is a land wherein” the eyes of Hashem your G-d are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” Deuteronomy 11:12).
Not only is He experienced differently in the land He is heard differently. The Angels that carry G-d’s message in the land of promise cannot be the same angels that do so outside the land. They carry different but similar messages

The verse tells us ” And Jacob left Beersheba, and he went ( VaYeitzeh) to Haran.”( Genesis 28:10) In the midst of Jacob’s running away from Esau he sees the vision of the ladder to the heavens in a dream. In this very spiritual and mystifying vision he is promised by G-d , great things.

“ And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid :15)

Before he returns from the land of Laban we read of another dream;

” And it came to pass at the time the animals came into heat, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the he goats that mounted the animals were ringed, speckled, and striped.”( ibid 31:10).

As opposed to the spiritual dream of angels that he dreamt while still in the land, here Jacob dreams about physical goats and material acquisitions. The materialistic seduction of Chutz LeAretz- Exile seems to have begun to affect Jacob as well. He understands that he needs to leave.

The dramatic impact of that truth is the understanding that when one lives and breathes in this land, one is subject to a different and higher level of spiritual existence. It is a reality that demands different bands of angels.

Last night I was listening to a live broadcast of a prayer gathering and memorial. The event was being conducted in Binyanei HaUma, the hall that was to be the setting for the wedding of Ariel Beigel and Sarah Techiya Litman on that same night. Sarah Techiya’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Litman and her brother Netanel were brutally murdered by terrorists the prior Friday. Though the wedding had to be postponed , the family wanted that same evening to be an evening that strengthened faith and hope. The words spoken were of a language that would have sounded strange to foreign ears in light of the tragedy. In the midst of obvious pain, they spoke of faith , hope and promise. They spoke of joy and rebuilding. They also spoke of inviting all the people of Israel to rejoice with them at the wedding planned for next week. They will not be disappointed as many , many will come.

This was the language of the angels of Israel.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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