Ordinary? Don’t think so.

The verse that describes the message that Jacob sent to his estranged twin-brother Esau contains a peculiar ambiguity.  It says that to deliver his message, Jacob sent malachim to his brother – a word than usually translates as “angels”  but can also be synonymous with “messengers.”  On the one hand, it would make sense that the verse refers to angels, because that is the common meaning of the word (Modern Hebrew has retained the same senses of the words mentioned here; see google translate here).  That leaves open the question, however, of why Jacob would utilize a supernatural means of conveying his message rather than a natural means.  If we take the word to be referring to ordinary messangers, however, it would have made sense to use the common term shelicim (google’s Hebrew rendition of messengers).  Why would the Torah be ambiguous when it could be clear?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 – 1986) explains that someone that has a truly profound sense of what God is and what He can do is will not be impressed more by the supernatural or the miraculous then he will by ordinary seemingly-humdrum daily life.  During the Passover Seder, on Chanukah, and many times throughout the Jewish year we recall, commemorate and emphasize the miraculous events that are part of our history.  These events unquestionably lay the groundwork for fundamental aspects of the Jewish worldview; the optimal attitude, however, of consistently seeing even the ordinary and the natural as equally miraculous is personified by Jacob.

The idea of the staggering complexity of the natural world and of human personality and society is evident to all.  Jacob’s uniqueness was to internalize this idea and convert it into a profoundly deep current of his everyday thought and subconscious attitude.  According to Jacob, there is no difference between a man and an angel.  Every person is an angel.  There is no ordinary.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Ordinary? Don’t think so.

  1. Harry Swirnoff

    Maybe Jacob felt more secure in sending angels to convey friendship to his twin brother. Even sending messengers insulates him from a direct enounter. In my opinion the Rabbis seem to put forth their best efforts to perhaps elevate Jacob beyond who he actually is much like the tehdency to do the same for a deceased person…Harry Swirnoff

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