Monday, November 29, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yaakov Abroad

[This is part 5 1/2 of the series. Begin the Trail here.]

To sum up what we have learned thus far: Eisav's life-mission, as Yitzchok understood it, was to be מקדש שם שמים outside the the Land of Israel by subjugating all natural forces before the One God. These forces are manifest in God's intermediaries, the angels. Eisav failed miserably, worshiping the very forces that he was supposed to dominate, and Yaakov is forced to commandeer his brother's mission. It follows that Yaakov must now confront angels, and that, indeed, is exactly what happens.

The development of Yaakov's relationship with angels makes for a fascinating study. Soon after Yaakov heads out for Charan, ויפגע במקום - Yaakov encounters the gate to heaven, a place of angels. Here Yaakov sees angels for the first time. The angels are ascending and descending a ladder connecting heaven to earth, attending to their business - and ignoring him (28:11-12). Still in Israel, Yaakov deals only with Hashem Himself. But that is soon to change.

Now a successful rancher, Yaakov is engaged in ongoing financial conflicts with his father-in-law Lavan. One night in a dream, Yaakov has a vision of angels taking sheep from Lavan and carrying them over to Yaakov's corral! (31:10; Rashi ad loc.) The angels are working for him! A clear sign that Yaakov is succeeding in getting the natural world under his control. Indeed, earlier in the story we find Yaakov  manipulating the laws of nature through the use of practical Kabbalah, genetically engineering the offspring of his flock (30:37-39; Rashi to 38). Avraham and Yitzchok never engaged in this kind of mystical practice, nor did Yaakov once he returned to Israel. But becoming an איש שדה, gaining mastery over nature, is central to Yaakov's mission abroad.

His third meeting with angels at the end of the Parsha is described this way: ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלהים - "God's angels encountered him" (32:2). In contrast to the beginning of the Parsha where ויפגע במקום, he encountered them, now, on his return to Israel, ויפגעו בו, they encounter him! Yaakov has gained supremacy over nature and the angels, and now he is the point of reference. His prowess knows no limits. וישלח יעקב מלאכים, "Yaakov sent angels..." (32:4). Incredibly, angels are subservient to Yaakov and do his bidding. More, ויאבק איש עמו, he wrestles an angel - and wins! (32:25-26). But the climax is yet to come.

When Eisav and Yaakov finally meet, Eisav asks, מי לך כל המחנה הזה אשר פגשתי, "What is your relationship with this whole encampment that I encountered?" (33:8). Rashi quotes the Midrash:
[Eisav] met up with groups of angels that pushed him and his men. [The angels] asked them, "Who are you with?" "We are Eisav's men," they responded. "Attack!" yelled the angels. The men said, "Leave us alone. He is the son of Yitzchok!" They paid no attention. "He is the grandson of Avraham!" They payed no attention. "He is the brother of Yaakov!" "If so," said the angels, "then you are one of us." 
Yaakov reached a level of dominance over nature that Avraham and Yitzchok never achieved, for this is a mission Yaakov inherited from Eisav, a mission for the Diaspora. When the Jew lives in a world ruled by nature and is forced to be an איש שדה, then his physical and spiritual survival depend on remaining on top of his game - physically and spiritually. He cannot become subservient or worshipful of the forces - natural or market - that define his world; on the contrary, his mission is to be מקדש שם שמים by demonstrating that he will not bow nor surrender before anything other than the One God. This is the definition of success: איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו. It is a mindset: nature is God's agent and it serves the Tzaddik, not the other way around. The Beracha that Yaakov stole and the mission that came with it are thus one and the same. And, unlike his brother Eisav, Yaakov aces it.

איתא בכתובות דף סו ע"ב, "בכה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ואמר אשריכם ישראל, בזמן שעושין רצונו של מקום אין כל אומה ולשון שולטת בהם..." וכתב המהרש"א באמ"ד, "כי כל אומה יש לה שר ומזל בשמים משא"כ ישראל שאין להם שום מזל אבל הם חלק ה' עמו כי יעקב חבל נחלתו (יעקב דייקא - י.ג.) וע"כ כשעושין רצונו הם למעלה מכל האומות ושריהם, כמ"ש "הבט נא השמימה" שדרשו שהוציא את אברהם החוצה למעלה מכל צבא השמים דאין הבטה אלא ממעלה למטה..." ע"כ. ויש להוסיף שהקב"ה אמר שם לאברהם "כא יהיה זרעך" ונראה דכוונתו ית' ליעקב, דביעקב אנו רואים קיום הבטחה זו שהוא למעלה מכל צבא השמים, כנ"ל. ואולי י"ל דהיינו מש"כ בחלום הסולם, "והנה ה' נצב עליו", ה' דוקא, אמנם הסולם ומלאכי אלוהים אינם עליו, שהוציאו למעלה מכל צבא השמים  

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