This week’s parasha starts with Yaakov sending messengers to Esav:
The word מלאכים is ambiguous; it’s used both for flesh-and-blood messengers and for angels, divine messengers. Rashi makes a cryptic comment:
What does that mean? It could be that מַמָּשׁ means real, live people, which is how Onkelos translates it:
But it’s clear from the Midrash that Rashi is quoting, that he means angels.
Why does Rashi choose the midrashic translation? It certainly doesn’t seem like the פשט. Avigdor Bonchek, in What’s Bothering Rashi, says it’s from the context of the previous psukim:
But I think there’s something more. Throughout ספר בראשית, messages or objects are sent with the verb וישלח, without any mention of the medium, unless the nature of the medium is important.
So Rashi is saying that the fact that Yaakov sent מלאכים is part of the message to Esav. What was that message?
The Sfas Emes points to another midrashic interpretation of Rashi’s:
And it’s worth noting that this is not in any חז״ל that I can find; it’s Rashi’s own interpretation. And it’s clearly not literally true:
Yaakov is telling Esav that he obeyed ה׳'s will, that he carried out the legacy of Yitzchak and Avraham, even in Aram. The Sfas Emes goes kabbalistic and says that’s the “angels” that he sent:
That’s a nice way of looking at the angels surrounding Yaakov. But why send that message to Esav? The Sfas Emes connects that to another midrash:
Many commentators are bothered by the question of how can Yaakov keep שבת if he’s not commanded? A בן נח who keeps שבת is חייב מיתה! Were the אבות, pre-Sinai, considered בני בח or בני ישראל? There are some clever answers:
Which reminds me of the joke:
That’s all very cute, but it takes the midrash literally. The Sfas Emes reads it seriously but symbolically:
Coming to ארץ ישראל from חוץ לארץ is like going from ערב שבת to שבת. It’s going from the state of preparation to the ultimate goal.
So what was the message to Esav? Yaakov got two blessings. One, he had “stolen” from Esav:
The second was always intended for Yaakov:
Yaakov is telling Esav that he is returning to ארץ הקדושה, but only to fulfill his own ברכה. He can say תרי״ג מצות שמרתי because that is ברכת אברהם. He tells Esav, “the stolen blessing? That’s yours.”
And with their reconciliation they have the opportunity to realize Yitzchak’s hope, that the two brothers would work as partners, each with their own blessing, drawing strength from one another (לְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ) to fulfill the destiny of ברית אברהם. But at the end of the parasha, Esav rejects this:
And it is left to Yaakov and his מלאכים to continue the story.