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Seeing Angels

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Parashat vayeTze





Days of Deliverance: Essays on Purim and Hanukkah


To order:




Summarized by Aryeh Dienstag


At the beginning and at the end of our parasha, when leaving Beer Sheva and when leaving Charan, Yaakov is confronted with angels. 


…He came upon the place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.  (Bereishit 28)


Early in the morning, Lavan kissed his sons and daughters and bade them farewell; then Lavan left on his journey homeward.  Jacob went on his way, and angels of God encountered him.  When he saw them, Jacob said, "This is God's camp." So he named that place Machanaim. (Bereishit 32)


However, these are two different Yaakovs that we are speaking about.  The first time Yaakov saw angels he was a young man with few responsibilities.  Having just completed years of study in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he had no familial or financial obligations and was free to pursue any path he wished.  However, the second time Yaakov meets angels he is an established individual.  Many responsibilities weigh upon his shoulders, including the burdens of family and a livelihood.  No longer is Yaakov free to pursue whatever his heart desires.  He must provide for his very large family and see to all their needs. 


Furthermore, at the end of the parasha, Yaakov has just finished spending twenty years of complete subservience to Lavan.  He had not had been the master of his time or labor, and always had to do Lavan's bidding.  The Gemara (Bava Metzia 93b) describes Yaakov as the epitome of a faithful worker, who took no free time for himself.  This is a far cry from the carefree youth at the beginning of the parasha. 


Yaakov's metamorphosis between his respective departures from Beer Sheva and Charan amounts to more than simply added responsibilities and less free time.  Yaakov has a youthful personality at the beginning of the parasha.  He dreams, he has hopes and aspirations: he is young and idealistic.  However, Yaakov at the end of the parasha is a grown man.  He has become a mature and practical person, concerned with day-to-day life.  His thoughts are about the financial and practical constraints life has placed upon him.  


Nevertheless, even at the end of the parasha, Yaakov has not lost his ability to see angels.  He no longer dreams of angels; now Yaakov encounters actual angels. Yaakov held onto his dreams even after maturing, marrying and accepting the burden of providing for a family.  He retained his religious personality even in the face of his new life and new responsibilities.  Yaakov Avinu overcame the tremendous challenge of maintaining his ability to dream and maintaining the proper perspective throughout his trials and tribulations.  Therefore, Yaakov met angels when he left Charan. 


When he left Beer Sheva, Yaakov's vision wasn't merely of a ladder that connected him to heaven.  According to Chazal, it was a ladder that had one foot in Beer Sheva and the other at Mt. Moriah.  Yaakov constantly linked his mundane life to sanctity. 


This challenge confronts each of us as well.  As we accumulate responsibilities, we too must retain our ability to see angels.  Moving towards a more practically-oriented life must not blind our focus on Torah and avodat Hashem.  When a person leaves yeshiva, he can't let the diminishment of his quantity of talmud Torah mean a qualitative diminishment in his connection to Torah and to God.  The burdens of providing for one's family shouldn't break one's dreams.  We must always keep one foot in Beer Sheva and the other at Mt. Moriah.


Not everyone who is in yeshiva merits seeing angels, and not everyone in yeshiva learns how to dream.  I hear people speak of leaving yeshiva as going into "real life."  How can Torah, "our lives and length of our days, ki hem chayeinu ve-orekh yameinu," not be "real life"?  A person in yeshiva must maximize his time and work on his relationship with God so that this relationship is strong enough to outlast his career in yeshiva. 


If we work on ourselves and our connection to God during our formative years in yeshiva, we shall merit seeing angels in yeshiva, and will continue to see angels even after we leave yeshiva.


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Vayetze 5766 [2005].)