G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day: may the angel who
redeems me from all evil bless the lads…
Who was this angel? Did Yaakov really beseech its assistance – in violation
of every Jewish sensibility that demands that we never pray to anyone of
anything other than Hashem Himself?
Yaakov did not pray to an angel. He did not entreat some heavenly figure to
shower his grandchildren with blessing. We turn in prayer to Hashem alone;
we do not admit to any other object of veneration. Praying to an angel would
be all the more objectionable after beginning a prayer with a reference to
Hashem Himself, as Yaakov does here!
We will unravel this mystery only if we first understand the two elements in
Yaakov’s prayer. He speaks of sustenance, of Hashem “shepherding” him,
giving him what he needs just as a shepherd leads his flock to the pasture
land and the water they need. Yaakov also speaks of redemption, of
deliverance from destructive forces that rise against him.
Our first instinct is to assume that redemption means critical intervention
at moments of extreme urgency. For most people, those moments are few and
far between – a handful or two in a lifetime.
Chazal thought differently. R. Eliezer reasons that by bringing these
two themes together in Yaakov’s tefilah, the Torah implies a strong
comparison between them. Redemption is wondrous and miraculous. Therefore,
says R. Eliezer, we must know that parnasah, sustenance, is miraculous as
well. Furthermore, not a day goes by in which we are not given parnasah. We
must therefore conclude that Yaakov refers to a redemptive deliverance that
is also continuous and ever-present.
Neither parnasah nor geulah comes “simply” through laws of Nature, fixed
into the fabric of Creation. Both, rather, come about through hashgachah,
through Hashem’s special providence over the lives of individuals.
It is easy to see this in reference to parnasah. In a brutally competitive
world that does not stop to ask questions about right and wrong, the
parnasah of the honest citizen is indeed miraculous. Only a miracle can
account for the food that a person of sterling character, of integrity and
scruples, manages to put on his table. It is indeed a gift from G-d each day.
More subtly, his survival each day is also miraculous. So very much can go
wrong! So many pitfalls, so many kinds of physical and social evils threaten
to overcome and overwhelm him! Only Hashem’s geulah, His redemptive
deliverance, allow him to survive. (Chazal remark that it is to our
advantage that we cannot see the myriad mazikim, demonic forces, which
physically surround us. This is certainly true in the social world as well.
We would lose our sanity if we had to worry about all that we could
reasonably worry about! We live in blissful ignorance of all the hazards
that threaten us – all the envy and intrigue and disease and evil that could
snuff out our existence. Our survival in spite of these challenges to our
existence is the result of geulah, the constant, protective involvement of
Hashem in our lives.
R. Shmuel bar Nachman observes  that parnasah is of greater consequence
than geulah. In our pesukim, the latter is attributed to an angel; the
former is associated with Hashem Himself, apparently unwilling to delegate
the task to one of His messengers.
Perhaps we can explain his teaching in the following way. This daily geulah,
the bubble of protection that surrounds the fortunate person chosen by
Hashem to make it to the finish line, is part of an entire pattern. Some
people call it fate or destiny. At its core is the undeniable fact that an
individual cannot emerge from the maze of dead-ends and pitfalls without
serious protection. This protection is so basic to existence, that it must
precede parnasah. For an individual (or community or nation, for that
matter!) to survive, it needs to be endowed from the very beginning with a
complement of protectors. From the moment that Hashem determines that an
individual will survive, or a nation will exist – that it is their “destiny”
or “fate” to remain functional - He provides it with the proper conditions
and tools to escape fatal disturbance. Seen this way, parnasah fuels the
activity of something, but geulah insures the very existence of the thing
that needs to be fueled.
When we step back and contemplate how fortunate we are to simply exist – how
improbable our existence really is – we gratefully acknowledge His decision
to have created us. We acknowledge as well all the protection we have needed
to have made it to a given moment. We call it a malach, which means in this
context a messenger sent by Hashem. We acknowledge that the source of our
bundle of protective elements is G-d Himself; whatever is working for us
does so not randomly, but because He engineered it.
The malach, then, is the entire pattern of how Hashem has ordered our
survivability. Yaakov notes here the contrast between his life-pattern and
that of his brother, Esav. For Esav to survive, much was required of him. He
was called upon to rely upon his own strength and sword. Yaakov, by
contrast, was allowed by His Creator to contribute minimally, but to be
carried through the difficulties of life by Hashem’s agents.
This, then, is Yaakov’s prayer for his grandchildren, directed at Hashem and
no other. “May the malach that guides your futures be the same as guided
mine. May your fate and destiny be similar to mine – living through all
moments of life, the good and the not so good, with G-d doing the heavy
lifting, and you gratefully acknowledging His protection as you do more
coasting than pedaling.
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bereishis 48:15-16
2. Bereishis Rabbah 20