By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Yaakov sent malachim ahead of him to his brother Esav… (Bereshith
The previous essay mentioned that Yaakov sent Divine emissaries instead of
human ones, for only they were capable of finding out the truth about
Esav’s current disposition. However, aside from the personal gain that
Yaakov stood to get from this type of messenger, Yaakov’s choice was based
on another concern as well. Fearing for his life, and for the lives of all
the members of his household, Yaakov knew that he needed to approach Esav
with an element of false flattery and exaggerated humility in order to
appease him. As has been explained, even when such deviation from the
truth is permitted, actions that involve falsehood can influence a
person’s nature, drawing him towards dishonesty.1 For this reason, Yaakov did not want to send human
messengers to his brother.
More than once during his stay with Lavan, Yaakov had acted with guile in
order to neutralize Lavan’s crookedness. Any time a person acts
deceptively he creates a spiritual being whose nature corresponds to his
act.2 During his stay with Lavan,
Yaakov’s actions had created countless angels who were characterized by
the trait of craftiness. Since acting deceitfully would not influence
these spiritual beings, Yaakov employed them for the task of greeting
Following Yaakov’s example, we should try our best to avoid situations in
which we might be forced to act dishonestly, even if such actions would be
permitted, so that we never run the risk of being corrupted.4 If this applies to specific situations,
such as that encountered by Yaakov, we must certainly take it into account
when considering which vocation to pursue, since our vocation will
influence our actions on a daily basis, affecting us constantly.
There was once a young man who, upon investigating a certain profession,
saw to his dismay that theft, cheating and false oaths were commonplace
among those who worked in that trade. Shortly thereafter he noticed a man
plowing a field, unaware that the man was Eliyahu HaNavi. He asked Eliyahu
what his occupation was, and he replied, “I grow produce so I can feed my
family, my livestock and the poor people.” The young man recognized that
this was a trade in which he could support himself honestly, and he asked
Eliyahu HaNavi to help him to establish himself as a farmer.5
1 See essays on Bereshith 31:55, “Guard Your Lips I and II,”
(pages 213 and 215).
2 Yalkut Shimoni, Ha’azinu 942; Tana D’bei Eliyahu Zuta, Ch.
3 Divrei Yoel (Satmar Rav), Bereshith Vol. 2, p. 174.
4 See the essays on Bereshith 20:12, “Keep Your Distance II
and III,” (pages 111 and 113).
5 Midrash Asereth HaDibroth 37.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org