Seeing is believing, but there is far more to see in this world than meets the human eye. Take the air that surrounds you, for example. The air seems empty enough, but take a not-so-powerful microscope and you’ll be amazed at how the emptiness of the air teems with all manner of minute particles.
And if you could go further than that, beyond the microscopic, if you’d go beyond the limits of human vision itself, you’d be even more amazed and possibly more than a little frightened.
The fact is that we are all surrounded by myriad incorporeal spiritual beings. Some of these beings are benevolent and others, well, let’s just say, they’re less than benevolent.
“And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esav, his brother.”
Why does the Torah include the phrase “before him”? Ostensibly, the sentence could have equally well been, “And Yaakov sent angels to Esav, his brother.”
The Mishna (Avot, Chapter 4) tells us that if we do even one mitzvah, we acquire for ourselves a defending angel, and if we do one transgression we acquire a prosecuting angel. The mitzvah itself creates that spiritual entity (so inadequately translated into English by the word “angel”). Every mitzvah literally begets a holy angel.
As in the world beneath, so too it is in the world above.
A defense lawyer will do everything he can to show off his client in a good light, and, similarly, the angel born of a mitzvah pleads for his “client” before G-d’s throne in the Heavenly Realms. This angel tries his hardest to advance his client’s welfare, not only spiritually but materially too. This angel is really more like a son pleading on behalf of his father, for, like a son, he was created by his “father.”
Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Beit Yosef and author of the Shulchan Aruch, the standard compendium of Jewish law, would regularly learn the entire six orders of the Mishna by heart. It is well known that, as a result of this prodigious achievement, an angel would come and learn Torah with him. The book “Magid Meisharim” (lit. The Speaker of Straight Things) details what the angel taught him, and more. This book is still readily available to this day.
The Shelah Hakadosh in his commentary on Tractate Shavuot recounts an amazing story. One Shavuot, he and nine other Torah sages stayed up all night on both nights of Shavuot and they witnessed how the angel spoke with the Beit Yosef. It started speaking as follows: “I am the Mishna speaking in your throat.”
The name of that angel was “Mishna,” since that was the mitzvah that gave it life.
At the end of this lengthy testimony, all ten Sages, including Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (the composer of the famous Shabbat song Lecha Dodi that is sung in synagogues every Friday night the world over) signed an authentication of what they had seen and heard.
“And Yaakov sent angels before him to Esav, his brother”
Yaakov didn’t want to employ the services of those angels who stand before G-d’s throne. He sent only angels that were the offspring of his good deeds, the ones that were “before him.”