Parshas Vayeitzei tells us how Yaakov began establishing the nation of Yisrael. In this parsha, we see Him go to Lavan’s house, marry his four wives, have eleven of his twelve children, and attain massive amounts of wealth. Twenty years after leaving his father’s house, he has accomplished all he set out to do, and by the end of the parsha, he begins to travel back to Eretz Yisrael.
As he reaches the border of Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov is welcomed by some heavenly visitors. “וְיַעֲקֹב הָלַךְ לְדַרְכּוֹ וַיִּפְגְּעוּ בוֹ מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָם מַחֲנֵה אֱלֹהִים זֶה וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא מַחֲנָיִם.” “And Yaakov went on his way, and angels of God encountered him. And Yaakov said when he saw them, ‘This is a Godly camp!’ So he called the name of that place Machanaim.” (Bereishis 32:2-3). There are several points to bring up here. First, the word “וַיִּפְגְּעוּ” indicates that this was a sudden meeting, that Yaakov didn’t see them coming until they were right in front of him. Secondly, the Torah doesn’t include any details unless they are vital to the story or lesson it is teaching us. The Torah already told us that these were angels, so why do we need Yaakov’s observation that this was a “Godly camp”? Isn’t that obvious if the angels were there? Lastly, the word “מַחֲנָיִם” is the plural of “machaneh”, meaning encampment. Yaakov said this was a Godly camp, what was the second camp?
The Ohr HaChaim discusses all these questions and explains like this. Looking ahead to the beginning of next week’s parsha, Vayishlach, it begins with Yaakov sending messengers to Esav in preparation for their eventual meeting. The meforshim all discuss whether these were human messengers or angels. The source for the explanation that they were angels is learned out from here.
As Yaakov came closer to this place, it appeared to be empty. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it was inhabited by angels. This is why the pasuk uses the word “וַיִּפְגְּעוּ,” they literally came out of nowhere to greet Yaakov. This is how he knew immediately that they were angels, even as they appeared to him in the form of men. The combination of his surprise at their appearance as well as his determining that they were actually spiritual beings led Yaakov to exclaim, “This is a Godly camp! These are angelic beings! We are in a holy place.”
As we are taught in Parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov sent these angels to bribe Esav, and he also prepared his own family for a potential battle. But the angels couldn’t help him with that. So the name “Machanaim” is in reference to the two separate camps operating out of one location, the camp of angels disguised as men who were preparing to meet Esav to bribe him and report back to Yaakov, and the camp of men who were preparing for war.
Throughout the Torah, we see different explanations that seem to come out of nowhere. We can question where the commentaries came up with these explanations and if they should be seen as legitimate. Every once in a while, I like to write a Dvar Torah of this nature that shows us how the commentaries work; how they arrived at their explanations. Here is a good example; this question at the beginning of Vayishlach is a famous one, were Yaakov’s messengers men or angels. Why would I assume they were angels? What reason do I have to say that Yaakov was able to obtain heavenly messengers for his earthly mission? By reading the Ohr HaChaim at the end of this week’s parsha, we see how it is all determined by the reading of the Torah.
Click here to listen this this week's Podcast (Also available on iTunes)
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email is at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @aimemtorah
Don't forget to check out hashkafahandbook.com to learn about my book,Reality Check. And Like it on Facebook.
Check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!