Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Real Angel

There is a famous Rashi in Parashat Vayishlach (Chapter 32) on the following verse:

ד וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם
4. Jacob sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

And here is the Rashi (translations from JPS found on here):
ד וישלח יעקב מלאכים
מלאכים ממש
Jacob sent angels Heb. מַלְאָכִים, literally angels (Gen. Rabbah 75:4).

In the book of Shmuel I (Chapter 23) there is a similar Rashi on the following verse:

כז וּמַלְאָךְ בָּא, אֶל-שָׁאוּל לֵאמֹר: מַהֲרָה וְלֵכָה, כִּי-פָשְׁטוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים עַל-הָאָרֶץ
27. And a messenger came to Saul, saying, "Make haste and go, for the Pelishtim have spread out over the land!"

And here is the Rashi:
כז ומלאך בא אל שאול - מלאך ממש כדי להציל את דוד
And a messenger came (Heb. ‘malakh’) a real angel, in order to save David.

I believe, (based on a Bar-Ilan query) that these are the only two instances in which Rashi makes the point that malakh is referring to an angel as opposed to a more mundane messenger (of the human variety). The context in the book of Shmuel is highly instructive. David has been surrounded by Shaul and his men – his fate is certain, there is no escape. At the moment when all hope has been lost for David a messenger comes to Shaul sending him off to defend his nation from an onslaught of Pelishtim. A sensitive reader knows that the verse could just have easily told us that a man came. The reason for saying a malakh came is clear. David was saved, not by chance, but by divine intervention. The 'messenger' is an 'angel' – this is the text's way of telling us to not view this event as mundane. Clearly, Rashi is not trying to tell us that a metaphysical being came with the message to Shaul.

With this in mind, one should consider what Rashi means in Parashat Vayishlach.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ralbag's Preliminary Remark on Sefer B'reishit
Part II

(Continued from here)

Additionally, because the Torah covers the domains of the three divisions that we mentioned in our introduction and the division that covers the science of existing things continually perfects and gives form to the other divisions it is fitting to first establish that this is what the Torah is directed towards.

We should not be confused about the commandments in the Torah - such as belief in the Exalted God, serving Him, awe of Him - that are the ultimate purpose of the Torah, and think that they should precede the division that covers the science of existing things. This is because, it is not possible to posit that we should be in awe of the Exalted God and serve Him before we grasp that there is such a Being of this description. And when we have knowledge of the science of existing things we become enlightened to the fact that there is an existence that actualizes all of the existences, and we comprehend and know Him by way of his actions. And this comprehension brings us to serve Him and have awe of Him.

Additionally, since one of the cornerstones of the Torah is the belief in signs. And it is clear that if the world was eternal there would be no way for signs to exist – it is absolutely necessary to first establish the belief in the creation ex nihilo.

For this reason it begins with the creation of the world. In addition, it is an investigation of the utmost profundity to the point that it is rare for a wise-person to reach the truth in this area by way of analytical investigation if not for the guidance provided by the Torah. And, additionally, it makes known to us many of the deepest ideas concerning existing things, as we shall explain.