|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וַיְחִי ● Vayechi
● What is the blessing of HaMalach HaGo’eil? ●
“Fish in the Midst of the Land”
When Yaakov grew ill and sensed his looming death, he called in his sons to bless them. However, before Yaakov could deliver his final Brachos to his sons, Yaakov had a famous, private meeting with his closest son Yosef and Yosef’s sons Menasheh and Efrayim wherein he bestowed a unique couple of blessings upon them. In this intimate encounter, Yaakov blessed Yosef and his children with the famous words of “HaMalach HaGo’eil…” which has become famous for its place in our liturgy, as it is customarily sung during the Krias Shema Al HaMitah (the bedtime recitation of “Shema”) and for newborn baby boys the night before the Bris Milah (known as Vach Nacht in Ashkenazic circles and Brit Yitzchak in Sephardic circles).
What exactly is the message of this blessing? What do the words of “HaMalach HaGo’eil” mean? What is it a blessing for? Considering how famous and well-known the verse’s text is, we would hope to have simple understanding of the blessing’s content. And yet, if one reviews the plain text with fresh eyes, one might be surprised with how little he has actually considered the blessing’s true meaning. With that said, for those to whom this prayer has become all too familiar as a song, it is certainly time to “forget” and relearn the song so that we can properly analyze its lyrics and uncover its underlying message to us, our children, and our nation as a whole.
“HaMalach…Yivareich”-“The angel…shall bless”
The prayer starts off with a seemingly simple request, “HaMalach HaGo’eil Osi MiKal Ra Yivareich Es HaNe’arim…”-“May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the youths…”1
It appears that Yaakov wanted Hashem’s emissary, the angel who had redeemed him from “all evil” or the negative experiences in his life, to bless the youths. Now, obviously, all blessings and prayers are directed towards G-d, and Yaakov Avinu was not addressing any forces independent of G-d. Indeed, Yaakov did not believe in any forces independent of G-d. If that is the case, isn’t it odd that Yaakov’s blessing itself asks for a blessing, not from G-d, but from this “angel who redeems him from all evil”? This factor is strange on two accounts.
Firstly, it is strange that in Yaakov’s blessing to his son and grandsons, he essentially asked for another blessing. In other words, it was a blessing for a blessing. Why would Yaakov ask for a blessing that they be blessed? If there was something specific that Yaakov wanted bestowed upon his grandsons, then why Yaakov ask for some “force” to “bless them” that they get that thing? He should have just cut out the middle step and blessed them that they should attain that thing which he wanted them to attain. Why was Yaakov blessing them in this indirect way, that they be blessed for a blessing?
Secondly, this blessing is indirect in the sense that Yaakov made a particular request to an angel as a middleman or proxy instead of addressing the Source of all blessings Himself. Now, if you can get the King Himself, why ask His subject? Granted, all of Hashem’s angels are His emmisaries and extensions of Himself who only act in accordance with His command, but why not ask Hashem directly for the desired blessing? Aside from the fact that the request for G-d’s angel instead of G-d is arguably insulting, would it not just be more preferable and desirable anyway to cut out the middleman and ask G-d Himself?
“HaGo’eil Osi MiKal Ra”-“who redeems me from all evil”
Also, in this very line, Yaakov asks not just for any angel to bless his son’s offspring, but for “the angel who redeems [him] from all evil.”1 This description of the angel has some clearly negative connotations. As long as he was asking for an angel anyway, couldn’t Yaakov have asked for the angel that bestowed wonderful goodness upon him? Why was Yaakov being so pessimistic as to summon the angel who redeems him from evil?
The Da’as Zikeinim already pointed out that Yaakov was faulted for his negative evaluation of his life when he spoke before Pharaoh.2 And by that point, for Yaakov Avinu, things had been going quite smoothly and positively. After all, Yosef was alive and well, he and Yaakov were back together, and Yaakov even merited spending a good number of years with the grandsons whom he thought he’d never meet or even have. Now, Yosef and the family were taking great care of Yaakov and all was well, so why would Yaakov still talking about and reflecting on the “evil” that had befallen him? Again, while he was anyway requesting a blessing from angel, why modify the angel in this negative way? Why not just simply ask for the “angel who redeems me” without alluding to any evil or suffering?
“Vi’karei Vahem Shimi…”-“and my name shall be declared upon them…”
Further along in the Brachah, Yaakov prayed: “…Vi’karei Vahem Shimi V’Sheim Avosai Avraham V’Yitzchak…”-“…and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak…”1
Now, what exactly was Yaakov praying for in this part of the blessing? It sounds almost like Yaakov wanted Yosef’s children to be called by Yaakov’s name, and apparently by the names of Avraham and Yitzchak as well. Now, Yaakov could not have meant to say that there was something wrong with the names Efrayim and Menasheh, and that he wanted them to literally be called by their ancestors’ names instead of their own names. He didn’t expect that Efrayim and Menasheh be called Avraham, Yitzchak, or Yaakov. What, then, did he mean when he asked that his name and the names of Avraham and Yitzchak be “called upon them” or “declared through them”?
Something Fishy – “V’Yidgu LaRov…”-“And they shall ??? abundantly…”
In the final and possibly the most peculiar part of the blessing, Yaakov blesses them as follows: “V’Yidgu LaRov B’Kerev HaAretz.”1
Now, this clause is a difficult line to interpret without the various (although not completely accurate) translations given by many. Some of the popular renditions read this part of the verse as, “and may they multiply abundantly like fish in the midst of the land” or “and may they proliferate abundantly like fish in the midst of the land.”
Evidently, the prayer has something to do with the “midst of the land.” And yes, the word, “LaRov” certainly denotes abundance. But that first word, “V’Yidgu,” doesn’t have a clear meaning, though, there is something quite fishy about it (pardon the pun). The popular translations have it partially correct that the word “V’Yidgu” is some verb and is related to the word “Dag”-“fish.” In that vein, the classical understanding that Yaakov was praying that the youths somehow increase abundantly like fish certainly seems plausible. However, there are a couple of problems with this reading:
Firstly, there are more commonly used terms to refer to multiplying which are used many times in the Torah, such as “Peru U’Revu”-“Be fruitful and multiply.”3 Indeed, Yaakov didn’t have to use the imagery of fish to convey the point of “increasing.” If anything, he made things more difficult by neglecting to use a more straightforward expression to indicate his hope that they multiply.
Secondly, even if Yaakov wanted to bless them that they multiply abundantly like fish, he could have stated that exact simile and also elaborated in a way that wasn’t so ambiguous. For example, he could have said, “V’Yirvu LaRov K’Daggim” which would more accurately translate to, “and may they multiply abundantly like fish.” Instead, what Yaakov essentially chose to do was make up his own new word, “V’Yidgu,” which is apparently a verb form for the state of being fishlike. In other words, he turned the noun “fish” into a verb.
If that is the case, then Yaakov was essentially blessing Yosef that his children should do more than just multiply very much, but they should be or resemble fish. But, what would that have meant? Presumably, he was not hoping that his grandchildren would grow gills, sprout fins, and jump in a lake. What then was Yaakov saying?
If we want to know what exactly it was Yaakov was praying for, and what we are praying when we echo this blessing to our own children, we probably have to answer each of our questions. So, without further ado:
In answering our questions, we have to understand that context is everything. The setting in which Yaakov Avinu blessed his progeny will reveal the meaning of “HaMalach HaGo’eil.” What is the context and setting for Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef and his children before he would pass on?
At that particular point in time, Galus Mitzrayim, the Egyptian Exile, was imminent and Yaakov was well aware of it. He knew of the covenant that G-d had made with Avraham which promised affliction and alienhood at the hands of a foreign, wicked nation.4 Thus, his offspring would need the spiritual utility to survive that exile. Yaakov, who spent a great deal in his own personal Galus, has had a taste of that which his children were soon to experience and thus he began to bless the youth and in turn, clue them in on how they could stay strong throughout their physical and spiritual tribulations.
In an earlier conversation5, we quoted the idea from R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky in his Emes L’Yaakov that Yaakov obtained a special tradition of Torah from the study hall of Sheim and Eiver, before reaching Charan. This tradition which he subsequently imparted to Yosef as well, R’ Yaakov referred to as Toras Galus, the unique lessons in Torah that were necessary to prepare him for exile.
Well, if the Toras Galus was the special tradition Yaakov had transmitted to Yosef, “HaMalach HaGo’eil” could be properly understood as the Tefilas Galus, the blessing and prayer in preparation of the family’s spiritual descent to the impending exile. If that is true, the blessing of “HaMalach HaGo’eil” would have to come with a survival kit for the oncoming Galus. What could be found in this survival kit?
Angel of Exile
Taking it from the top, we were wondering why Yaakov did not request a specific blessing directly from G-d for his family and instead, asked for a vague Brachah indirectly through a Malach. Moreover, we were wondering why Yaakov specifically summoned the “angel who redeems him from all evil.”
Certainly, Yaakov had to know well that G-d Himself has no limits, so it is not like he was opting for the angel over G-d. Why then did Yaakov seemingly aim low? Maybe, one can suggest that Yaakov wasn’t shooting for less efficient, but rather, he was shooting for more realistic. In other words, perhaps an angel is a more natural means to attain G-d’s blessings. But, why would Yaakov have to settle for realistic instead of shooting for the stars? Why would Yaakov not take advantages of his greatest resources? Could he not make a special request to the Source of blessings?
Considering the context of the impending Galus though, we can suggest that Yaakov understood that the nature of Galus is that G-d necessarily hides Himself behind His emissaries. In the world of exile, G-d does not frequently appear out of the clouds, B’Chvodo U’V’Atzmo, in His Glory and His Essence, through supernatural revelation every time the going gets tough. G-d typically sends His bounty to the world indirectly, through natural means, through His angels whom He appoints over the natural world.
Of course, when one suffers in Galus, Hashem is always there; “Imo Anochi B’Tzarah”-“With him I am in distress.”6 Chazal teach us frequently that “Shechinta B’Galusa”-“The Divine Presence is in the Exile.”7 Nonetheless, Hashem purposely works privately through those emissaries—the angels. When Yaakov left home for his personal exile, Hashem sent “angels of exile” to accompany him.8
And it is specifically when everything looks “Ra” that one has to remember that Hashem’s Presence is there, behind His emissaries. Thus, in this opening line, Yaakov would impart two important keys to surviving in Galus, (1) the understanding that one must not to wait expectantly for the divine fireworks to appear, but to try to recognize G-d’s Hashgachah Pratis—literally, His guidance over the simplest and most intricate details of our lives, and (2) the continual yearning for and belief in that most needed redemption, especially when things look bad. Yaakov himself had been in harm’s way in Galus, and as such, he understood that G-d works in a roundabout through angels. It had been G-d’s angel upon whom Yaakov was generally forced to rely.9 Yes, the Shechinah itself was there in the Galus too, but it was hidden. Thus, Yaakov urged his grandsons who only know life in Galus that they would have to be on the lookout for Hashem’s angel who will deliver all of Hashem’s hidden blessings and redeem them from all evil.
Now, what did Yaakov mean in the second line when he blessed Menasheh and Efrayim that his name and his forefathers’ names be “declared upon them”? Obviously, Yaakov couldn’t mean that his grandsons would be called by anything other than their birth names. However, the simple meaning of this Brachah is that the Yaakov’s grandsons should be identified with their Avos, their forefathers. There would have to always be that connection. It is a simple concept, but a crucial one.
Indeed, another key to surviving the Galus is the firm knowledge of with whom it is one identifies himself. For a Ben Yisrael to not be swayed by the worldview and philosophy of his neighbors, one has to firmly grasp the traditions he knows true from his family tracing back to the Avos. That is one’s “name” or essence. It is the seal of Ben Yisrael. It is what he stands for.
Without this spiritual identity, one is doomed to be consumed by Galus. Consider Yosef HaTzaddik who, according to one opinion in Chazal, was on the cusp of committing an act of adultery with a gentile woman during his Galus.10 According to that tradition, Yosef was ready to give in to the enticement of the wife of Potifar until the image of Yaakov Avinu flashed through his mind and reminded him of what exactly it is he was a part. It was the image of his father that saved him.
In this vein, Yaakov was blessing his children that they should be able to have the names of the Avos “on them” always so that they too will never forget their spiritual mission.
Fish out of Water, “in the midst of the land”
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Efrayim and Menasheh and all of Yaakov’s future progeny was that they were or would be born and raised, not in the Holy Land, but in the spiritually impure land of Egypt, in the land of Galus. Living among the Egyptians, Am Yisrael was virtually set for failure. How would they be able to see G-d’s emissaries behind the scenes and how would they be able to keep to the identification of their forefathers from the land of their Exile?
This challenge brings us to our final question. What it was that Yaakov meant when he blessed them with these odd words, “V’Yidgu LaRov B’Kerev HaAretz,” that they be “abundantly fish-like in the midst of the land”?
Rashi11 points out that the overall connection Yaakov was trying to draw between the B’nei Yosef and fish in this final stretch of the blessing was that just as fish are fruitful and unaffected by the “Ayin HaRa” or the “Evil Eye,” so should Yosef’s sons be. In an a separate discussion earlier12, we defined this concept of Ayin HaRa, as it is described in various M’forshim13, as a spiritual force that calls a person and his assets into scrutinty of Divine Justice when one’s good fortune is displayed before the public and becomes the object of jealous among others. Chazal also teach us that Yosef was blessed with immunity from the Ayin HaRa once he averted his own eyes from that which was off limits to him, the wife of Potifar, during his Galus.14 In this vein, Chazal teach us that fish of all species are unaffected by the Evil Eye because they live hidden under the seas and out of the public eye.
And perhaps, this understanding reveals two more key lessons which Yaakov wanted his progeny to take with them in Galus, that (1) they should remain unaffected by the “Evil Eyes” of those around them in Galus, and that (2) they should guard their own eyes from that which is damaging in Galus. But, as far as our question concerning how they can achieve these lofty goals in Galus goes, we can entertain another crucial read of our verse.
As was said, Yaakov’s children would not exactly have the choice to live in a different habitat than that of the Egyptians, and again, this was the only habitat they would know. His children would be doomed to this exile in Egypt for a couple hundred years. In this light, it may be that what Yaakov was trying to counter when he was blessing them to be fish-like, was that that they should not just act like fish, but actually feel, in a real way, that they are outsiders, like “fish out of water,” or more specifically, fish “B’Kerev HaAretz”-“in the midst of the land.” In other words, they should feel that living amongst a filthy nation in Galus is like being a fish that was transplanted in the middle of the dry land! A fish on land cannot survive. It flops around desperately gasping for breath. It if it is outside the water, it will die.
And perhaps we can suggest further that if Egypt represents the midst of the land, then the water which these “fish” will need to survive is Hashem’s Holy Torah, as Chazal famously teach, “Ein Mayim Ela Torah”-“There is no ‘water’ other than Torah,”15 a line indicating that Torah represents our spiritual water and life source. Indeed, just as man can’t live without water, the soul of a Ben Yisrael will never survive without Torah.
Yes, it is true that the B’nei Yisrael would be stuck in the Galus and physically, the B’nei Yisrael could live in Egypt, but they have a chance to achieve spiritual survival there and in any Galus if they live like fish—to be so sensitive to the foreign society and know that the more they’re disconnected from their life source, the quicker they will die spiritually. This solution means to create those boundaries and safe havens whenever, wherever, and however possible, not to become desensitized and assimilated, Chas V’Shalom.
In Galus, a Jew has to flop around. And yet, at the same time, a Jew must continue to multiply abundantly and make sure that he and his children remain unaffected by the Ayin HaRa—all those evil eyes that the nations of the Galus cast upon them. The B’nei Yisrael could not let the stares and glares of the neighboring societies influence how they will ultimately act. A Ben Yisrael has to recognize that no matter where he is, he is under G-d’s watch—the only Eye which should influence his actions. This quality of firm adherence to the path of Avodas Hashem despite the Galus was something that at least in Yaakov’s lifetime, Menasheh and Efrayim were already exercising. Yaakov wanted to completely ingrain this attribute into them and all of their future progeny eternally.
When the B’nei Yisrael recognize the Galus and their role in that Galus as “fish in the midst of the land,” then, they will be sure to remember to look out for “HaMalach HaGo’eil,” Hashem’s angel to redeem them from that Galus. Moreover, they will remember that in everything they do, they are representatives of the Avos and Hashem’s Torah HaKedoshah, His Holy Torah. And in that merit, they will be redeemed from all evil.
May we all be Zocheh to not only survive and thrive in Galus, but to do so with the names of the Avos upon us and the recognition that Galus is not home, so that Hashem should ultimately deliver us from our Galus to our final destination and Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Chazak! Chazak! V’Nis’chazeik! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 48:16
- 1:22, 1:28
- Bereishis 15
- See what I wrote earlier; “A Generation of Dreams and a Menorah in Mikeitz,” Dream Analysis & Toras Galus, Parshas Mikeitz.
- Tehillim 91:15. See also Rashi to Shemos 3:2 citing Shemos Rabbah 2:5 and Tanchuma 14.
- Rabbeinu Bachya to Bereishis 39:20. See also Midrash HaGadol to Bereishis 22:16.
- Rashi to Bereishis 28:12 citing Bereishis Rabbah 68:12
- See Bereishis 28:12, 32:2, and 32:25.
- Rashi to Bereishis 39:11 citing Sotah 36B
- Citing Bereishis Rabbah 97:3 and Brachos 20A
- See what I wrote earlier in this Sidrah, “Evil Eyes & Teary Eyes – Final Tribute to Rochel,” Understanding “Ayin HaRa.”
- e. Maharal and Michtav Eliyahu
- Brachos 20A
- Bava Kamma 17A, 82A, and Avodah Zarah 5B, based on Yishaiyah 55:1, “Hoi Kal Tzamei L’chu LaMayim…”-“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come for water…”