The angels of Israel

To better understand the idea of angels, it is better to see them as “the message” rather than as “the messenger”.

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski ,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski

We read of angels from the very beginning of the biblical text

And He drove the man out, and He stationed from the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and the blade of the revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.(Genesis 3:L24)

We see angels appearing throughout the Biblical texts revealing and delivering G-d’s messages, warnings, or blessings.

Yet Angels are creatures without free choice. They are not independent agents and cannot do anything unless sent by G-d.

In fact, they each have an individual and singular purpose which will vary from angel to angel

We see this clearly when Abraham meets the three angels;

And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. (ibid 18:2)

Rashi explains why three angels had to appear;

“and behold, three men: One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands” (Gen. Rabbah 50:2).

Rashi goes on to prove his contention based on the verses that follow.

Yet the important point is to understand that each angel is given but one mission and he is not given the choice to accept or ignore his mission.

In many cultures, angels are seen as powerful beings that can create havoc or bring about good. Yet it is clear from the Biblical text that no angel can do anything without permission from G-d. (Book of Job)

To better understand angels then, it is better to see them as “the message” rather than as “the messenger”.

They simply bear the word and purpose of G-d. That is the reason for their existence, to deliver “the message” from the Heavens.

When Jacob, our forefather, was fleeing from his house, he was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt. He is fatigued and drained and he falls asleep on a rock in the middle of the field.

It is then that G-d reveals to him a powerful image and deeply impacting metaphor:

And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it. ” (Genesis 28:12 )

Rashi in his commentary explains the image in the following manner;

”ascending and descending: Ascending first and afterwards descending. The angels who escorted him in the [Holy] Land do not go outside the Land, and they ascended to heaven, and the angels of outside the Holy Land descended to escort him.

Why would two different bands of angels be necessary?

Furthermore as we will see on his return many years later, this phenomenon will reappear.

And Jacob went on his way, and angels of G-d met him.( Ibid 32:2). are taught in these words that Angels of Israel came to greet him to escort him to the land. (Rashi)

As a result we read further that this encounter moves Jacob to name the place Machanayim (in the plural- two camps)

And Jacob said when he saw them, “This is the camp of G-d,” and he named the place Mahanaim” (ibid :3).

Rashi again explains that there were two camps ; one of the angels from outside the land, who accompanied him and one of the Angels of Israel who greeted him.(Tanchuma Vayishlach 3)

Again we must ask , why two differing groups of angels ? What makes the angels who deliver Hashem’s message in the land of Israel different than those that proclaim His message everywhere else.

The land of Israel is “a land Hashem, your G-d, looks after; the eyes Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. “( Deuteronomy 11:12)

Hashem is clearly everywhere you yearn to see and experience Him, yet His Presence is that much more palpable in the place that He declares” for the land is mine; “(Leviticus 25:23)

This land of Israel is His land and as a result the expression of Hashem within it is more direct and impactful. As a result the angels that are the bearers of that message at times are unique to this land of Israel.

It is that truth that explains the universal experience of people who come to visiting this land and find themselves impacted in the most subtle and yet the most powerful of ways.

One [thing] I ask of Hashem , that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life,.” (Psalm 27:4 )

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved vekol HaCholim