Parashat Vayishlach begins with the account of Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, Esav, as he made his way back to Canaan. After having been separated from Esav brother for twenty years, Yaakov now delivers a message of reconciliation in the hopes of ensuring a peaceful reunion. Rashi famously comments that the messengers whom Yaakov sent were angels, likely referring to the angels mentioned in the final verses of the previous parasha, where we read that Yaakov encountered angels after he left Lavan and began making his way to Canaan.
The Rebbe of Kotzk (in Ohel Torah) makes a startling statement about this incident. The Torah describes Yaakov’s dispatching messengers with the phrase, “Va-yishlach Yaakov malakhim lefanav” – “Yaakov sent messengers ahead of him,” and the Kotzker Rebbe notes that the word “lefanav” (“ahead of him”) seems superfluous. He therefore suggests, remarkably, that Yaakov’s true intent was to send these angels away. Yaakov felt that he did not need the angels who came to greet him, as he was confident in God’s protection and care, which did not depend on the presence of any angels. He therefore sent the angels “lefanav” – “away from him,” seeing no need for them.
As is the case with many Chassidic readings of the Biblical text, the Kotzker Rebbe’s interpretation of this verse seems very difficult to accept, and it is likely, or at least possible, that he himself did not intend to offer this insight as the actual explanation of the verse. Rather, he sought to convey a valuable lesson by way of this description of Yaakov sending away the angels that he encountered.
We are sent many “angels” over the course of our lives – people, assets, circumstances and opportunities that can help us achieve our goals and fulfill our wishes. Undoubtedly, we are allowed and expected to make use of these “angels” for our benefit. However, the image of Yaakov sending away the angels that came to him perhaps reminds us not to feel overly dependent on any particular “angel” or “angels” that we come upon during our lives. Sometimes we feel too attached to certain possessions, relationships or arrangements in our lives, such as a certain job or personal connection, such that we feel that our happiness or wellbeing depends on it. The Kotzker Rebbe is perhaps urging us to let go of our “angels” when we need to, to recognize that we are never dependent on anyone and anything other than God Himself. When life takes an unexpected turn, when we experience some drastic change, losing somebody or something that had been a fixture in our lives, we must try to let go of that “angel” and recognize that we are under the Almighty’s care. Just as Yaakov recognized that he could be cared for without any angels, we, too, must always remember that God can care for us without any given “angel” with which we have been blessed. And thus as we go through life trying to make use of the many different “angels” that are sent our way, we must remain cognizant of the fact that we are ultimately under God’s direct care and protection, and not dependent on anything or anyone.