Parshat Vayishlach: The Dual Meaning of the Ox and the Donkey Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

3 12 2009

Parshat Chayei Sarah: Overcoming Self Interest

As Yaakov nears the land of Israel, he sends angels as messengers to his brother Esav. The Shem MiShmuel finds several aspects about this incident puzzling. Why did Yaakov tell Esav, “I had an ox and a donkey in the house of Lavan?” Additionally, since he was met by the angels of Israel while the angels of Chutz L’aaretz were still with him, he selected angels from both groups to go to Esav. Why did he need both types of angels and what was the difference between them?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that there are seven inhabited continents that comprise the world. The land of Israel is at the center with three continents on each side. Shabbat, similarly, is the focal point of the week. We prepare for Shabbat during the three days that precede it, and we bask in the glow of the previous Shabbat for the three days that follow.

The Gemara says there are weekday angels and Shabbat angels. The Shabbat angels correspond to Eretz Yisrael, and the weekday angels relate to the other six continents.

The midrash on Breishit discusses a disagreement about the day on which G-d created angels. Rabbi Yochanan maintains that they were created on the second day, while Rabbi Chanina states that they were created on the fifth day. The Shem Mishmuel suggests that both opinions are correct. An angel’s mission is to be a conduit between the spiritual world of Hashem and the physical realm of man. An angel is supposed to connect Hashem’s infinite being with our finite world. Hashem sends his spirituality down to us. We elevate our physical world, delivering it back to Him. The angels participate in this process.

The angels who were created on the second day were very close to Hashem. The physical world was just beginning to take shape. These weekday angels were charged with the mission of transporting spirituality to the physical world. On the fifth day, Hashem created the Shabbat angels who would serve man, who would be created the following day.

Man’s purpose is to activate the spiritual dimension found within the physical world, and return it to Hashem. During the week we benefit from the spiritual power brought down by the weekday angels. On Shabbat, we take all the physical struggles of the week, and with the assistance of the Shabbat angels, create a holy gift for Hashem.

This movement from spiritual to physical also applies to our world. In the six continents, the weekday angels work to bring the life giving force from the higher spheres to the lower world. In the land of Israel, where there is a yearning to connect to Hashem, the Shabbat angels help transform the physical back into spiritual.

This pattern is also found with tzaddikim. One kind of tzaddik excels in serving Hashem through prayer and kind deeds. He elevates his physical existence to spirituality. There is another kind of tzaddik who is outstanding in Torah learning. He uncovers Hashem’s manifestation of spirituality as found in the Torah, and internalizes it within his physical form.

This is what Yaakov meant when he told Esav that he had an ox and a donkey. The ox symbolizes Yosef Hatzadik, who elevated physical to spiritual. The donkey refers to Yissachar, who excelled in Torah.
There are also two types of evil. The ox corresponds to the evil person who will destroy anyone blocking his path to power. This is psychological energy, derived from the ego, flowing from above downwards. The donkey represents immorality and unbridled pleasure. This is physical energy moving up.

The Eved Hashem fights the evil of power. The Torah scholar battles the evil of immorality. Esav, whose fundamental evil was tyranny, joined hands with Yishmael, who signified physical pleasure. Therefore, Yaakov sent him a message, “I had an ox and a donkey.” In a sense he was saying, “I have Yosef and Yissachar,” who can counteract your dual evil.

Yosef and Yissachar are typical of Jews throughout the ages. As we read the parsha describing the encounter of Yaakov and Esav we can discern what our purpose is – to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven. May we merit to succeed in our mission.




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