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Friday, December 11, 2009

Oh, Man! -- More About Angels

Pursuant to our discussion about angels and men last week and Jeff''s comments about how men and angels are (at least sometimes) interchangeable: We have such a case this week.

בראשית פרק לז
(יג) ויאמר ישראל אל יוסף הלוא אחיך רעים בשכם לכה ואשלחך אליהם ויאמר לו הנני:
(יד) ויאמר לו לך נא ראה את שלום אחיך ואת שלום הצאן והשבני דבר וישלחהו מעמק חברון ויבא שכמה:
(טו) וימצאהו איש והנה תעה בשדה וישאלהו האיש לאמר מה תבקש

Genesis 37

(13) Israel said to Yosef: Aren't your brothers herding in Shechem? Go and I will send you to them. And he (Yosef) said: I am here.
(14) And he (Yaakov) said to him (Yosef): Please go and see (about) the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the sheep and bring me back a word. And he sent him from the valley of Hevron and he came to Shechem.
(15) And a man found him and behold he was wandering in the field. And the man asked him saying: What do you seek?

The man here is taken by the sages to be an angel whose task it was to direct Yosef to his brothers. I can think of two other instances so far in Genesis where the word 'ish' (man) ends up referring to angels. The first would be the three men who went by Avraham's tent at the beginning of Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:2). We figure out that they are angels by virtue of the fact that one of them gives a message from God to Avraham. The other ones go off to Sodom and are referred to still as men (verses 16 & 22). However, when they come to save Lot and his family and destroy Sodom, they are suddenly referred to as 'malachim' (angels) (19:1). 

Possibly their appearance as men was replaced by an appearance more suited to an angel at that point or one could simply say that they were men for all intents and purposes until they came to fulfill. the tasks for which they were sent. 

We also see in last week's parsha that Yaakov struggles with a man (Genesis 32:25). That man is never referred to as being an angel, but we surmise as such from the story. 

In a sort of parallel story in Judges 13, we have the story of the angel who came to the wife of Manoach to tell her that she will give birth to Shimshon. The wife calls this angel 'ish haElohim' (man of God). The text refers to him as an angel but the couple only realizes that he is an angel or something like that at the end of the story. 

This brings me to point out that the term 'ish HaElohim' is also used to refer to Moshe (Deuteronomy 33:1)! He gets this title, in fact, just before his death. Moshe is referred to as 'ish' much earlier, back in the book of Exodus. The title of 'ish' seems to have some gravitas although it doesn't seem to indicate an angel as such. 

However, to support Jeff's contention somewhat, we could say that anyone, human or otherwise, who does a task at God's direction is certainly an agent of God, even if not actually called a 'malach.'

Shabbat shalom, chag urim sameach! Gotta go light candles.

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