Shoshana Cohen
Shoshana Cohen

Parshat Vayishlach: Our Ladder

At the beginning of this week’s parsha, we find Yaakov preparing to meet Eisav after years of separation. The pasuk tells us that Yaakov sent messengers to his brother (Bereishit, 32:4). Rashi, quoting the Bereishit Rabbah, explains that these messengers were not human beings, but were literally “malachim” – angels. The last time Yaakov and Eisav were together, Eisav threatened to murder his twin (Bereishit, 27:41). Yaakov was worried that this reunion would result in war; he sends angels ahead of him to greet Eisav with a message of peace: “I send this message to my master in order to find favour in his eyes” (Bereishit, 32: 6).

These are not the only angels in this week’s parsha. The night before Yaakov and Eisav finally meet, Yaakov “was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until dawn” (Bereishit, 32:25). Rashi, quoting the midrash, explains that the “man” in the pasuk refers to the angel of Eisav.

The midrash places angels into this narrative to draw out a contrast between Yaakov and Eisav. Throughout midrashic sources, Chazal repeatedly highlight differences between the two brothers that are more subtle in the pesukim themselves. The contrast is clear: Yaakov sends angels to Eisav, and Eisav sends an angel back. But Yaakov sends angels to make peace. Eisav’s angel fights.

The opening pasuk of this parsha is echoed by another pasuk, in Parshat Chukat in Sefer Bamidbar. In this parsha, “Yaakov sent messengers” (Bereishit, 32:4) to make peace with Eisav. In that parsha, in the context of going to war against the Amorites, “Bnei Yisrael sent messengers” (Bamidbar, 21:21) to make peace with their enemy. The Bamidbar Rabbah explains that Hashem did not explicitly command the Jewish people to try and make peace. However, they did so anyway. And this wasn’t just a decision made by Moshe; the pasuk emphasises that “Yisrael”, the people, sent these messengers.

It might be enough to do other mitzvot as and when they arise. But shalom is different. Regarding peace, says the Midrash, one should “seek shalom in his place and pursue it in other places” (Bamidbar Rabbah, 19:27). This idea is also expressed in Pirkei Avot: “Hillel said: be a student of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace” (1:12). When it comes to shalom, it is not enough to sit passively. We are expected to actively search for it.

Angels appeared in last week’s parsha too, in Yaakov’s dream of “a ladder standing on the ground, with its head reaching the heavens, and behold angels of G-d were going up and down it” (Bereishit, 28:12). The Kli Yakar comments on the symbolism of this dream. He explains that the ladder in the dream represents the connection between earth and heaven and the impact they can have on each other. Rashi questions why the pasuk mentions the angels going up before they came down. Based on this Kli Yakar, we can suggest this shows our actions go up, ascend to heaven – and that causes a Divine response. Hashem treats us according to the way we act. If we want Hashem to give us peace, we need to act accordingly, we need to run after it with all our energy and effort.

About the Author
Born and raised in London, Shoshana spent a year studying at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY) in Israel before moving to study English Literature at the University of Bristol, England.