וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל עשו אחיו ארצה שעיר שדה אדום.
“And Yakov sent emissaries before him to his brother Eisav to the land of Seir the field of Edom.” (Bereishis 32:4)
Rashi comments on this verse that the word malachim should not be translated to mean “emissaries” but it means “actual angels,” based on the Midrash. The commentators ask why Rashi chooses to interpret the word according to the Midrash, when there are others who write that Yakov did send human emissaries to Eisav.
The Mizrachi explains that Rashi takes his explanation from the word l’fanav – which means “before him,” and in the previous sidra the Torah says clearly that Yakov saw troops of angels before him. The Maskil L’dovid continues to find difficulty with this explanation, and writes that the verse may still imply that Yakov sent human emissaries. The word l’fanav – before him – merely implies that Yakov sent these emissaries ahead of himself, before he would confront his brother Eisav, as we see in the verse (Bereishis 46:28), “And Yehuda was sent l’fanav – before him.” Yakov sent Yehuda ahead of the family. Likewise, this verse can also mean that Yakov sent human emissaries before he met Eisav. So we remain with the question: How does Rashi determine that Yakov sent angels to Eisav?
The answer may be found in the question itself. Why indeed would Yakov send heavenly angels, when human emissaries would have been perfectly able to convey his message to Eisav? Why would he trouble the angels to do this?
The Gemara (Kiddushin 42b) says that “there is no emissary to commit sin.” This means that if a person sends someone to commit a sin, the laws of shlichus (emissaries) do not apply. The emissary cannot claim innocence and blame the person who sent him, but he is guilty of whatever sin he committed. He is fully responsible for his actions, even if he was sent by someone else, because each person has free choice.
This was Yakov’s intention when sending angels to Eisav. Yakov was constantly fearful that he would be found unworthy due to his sins. He feared that he would not be worthy of being saved from Eisav, so he wanted to “test the waters” by arranging a pre-encounter with Eisav. If he would send human emissaries who have free choice, he would still not know where he stands. He therefore asked the angels to go to Eisav, and used this as a sign. If they would listen to him and go, this would indicate that he is still in Hashem’s favor, because we know that angels have no free choice and can only do something if Hashem approves. If Hashem would be displeased with Yakov He would not let the angels serve as his emissaries. The angels would then tell Yakov that they are unable to go, because Hashem does not give His permission. On the other hand, if he would send people, they would be able to exercise free choice and go to Eisav in any case, so Yakov would not know whether or not Hashem approves of him.
Because of this reasoning, Rashi writes that Yakov sent actual angels to Eisav, instead of sending people. He wanted to find out through them if he is still in Hashem’s favor, or if he is considered sinful and unworthy in Hashem’s eyes.
In his message to Eisav, Yakov says: “I lived with Lavan.” Rashi explains that Yakov was telling Eisav that he was a stranger in Lavan’s home, without stature or prestige. He wanted to appease Eisav by indicating that “The blessings that your father blessed me that I should be sovereign to my brother have not been fulfilled in me.”
My grandson asked a good question: “Why did Yakov say to Eisav ‘your father,’ instead of saying ‘our father’? Yitzchak was Yakov’s father too!”
The answer may be as follows: Eisav was a capable hunter, and he ensnared not just animals but people as well. Even his own father was misled by Eisav, and Yitzchak thought he was righteous. Eisav asked his father questions which gave the impression that he is careful with performing mitzvos. When Yitzchak told Eisav that he would like to bless him, Eisav understood that since he was constantly serving his father while Yakov sat in the tent and learned Torah, Yitzchak loves only him and therefore wants to bless only him. When Yakov cheated him out of the brachos, he became incensed, because he considered himself like Yitzchak’s only son, due to his father’s love for him. So Yakov told him now: “Even according to your perception that Yitzchak is only your father, you can be assured that his blessings were not fulfilled in me.” Yakov was implying that the blessings he received may not have been effective, because “your father” Yitzchak did not intend to bless Yakov. It was as if Yakov was saying, “Don’t worry, the blessings may still be fulfilled in you because ‘your father’ intended them for you!”
Our sages tell us that “The happenings of our forefathers are a sign for the descendents.” The same things that happened to our great ancestors are happening nowadays. Just like then, the nations of the world claim that even though Hashem chose us as His people, He is no longer our Father. They claim that because we have sinned and have been exiled, Hashem has abandoned us and replaced us with other nations, chas v’shalom.
In truth, Hashem swore that he will not exchange us forever. But unfortunately, some Jews have fallen into despair, and because of that they have “blended with the nations and learned their ways.” So we must remind each other that Hashem is forever our Father!
There is a story about the tzaddik Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk. He once sent his son Rebbe Elozer to Rebbe Pinchas of Koritz for Shabbos. When Rebbe Elozer returned, he related to his father an incident that happened during the tisch. Rebbe Elozer gave a sigh, “Oy Tatteh!” and Rebbe Pinchas turned to him and asked him: “Perhaps He isn’t even your Father? When a person says Tatteh, he should first think deeply into himself and see if he is worthy of calling Hashem ‘Father!’ What if his sins have distanced him from Hashem?”
Rebbe Elimelech responded to his son: “Why didn’t you answer him with the verse ‘shal avicha’ (ask your father), which can also mean ‘borrow your father’? If a person is distanced from Hashem and is unworthy of calling Him Father, he can still ‘borrow’ the connection with Hashem from a tzaddik who is close to Hashem like a son. Every Jew is a child of Hashem and must never despair of attaining closeness to his beloved Father in Heaven!”
Hashem should help us all that we should merit yeshuos and refuos, and we should be zoche to the ultimate Redemption, speedily in our days, Amen.