How to Identify an Angel

Harav Shmuel of Kaminka, zy”a, was pacing back and forth, deep in thought, as he prepared himself for davening Shacharis when a man came over and asked him for tzedakah.

“Come back after davening,” Rav Shmuel requested.

Observing the exchange was Rav Shmuel’s Rebbe, the Maggid of Tshindov. He called his disciple over and began to describe to him the various spiritual spheres in heaven and of malachim and serafim.

“There are angels that each have a thousand heads,” the Maggid informed him. “Each head has a thousand mouths. Each mouth recites a thousand praises of Hashem daily.

So when a human being davens to Hashem, what worth could his tefillos possibly have compared to those of the angels?

“But there is one thing that we can do that they can’t — a favor for another person. And this [advantage] you want to push off for after davening?”


Many practical lessons emerge from this parashah, both in the most basic understanding of the pesukim and homiletically.

One lesson is a thought attributed to the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, zy”a, as well other tzaddikim:

Last week we learned that Yaakov Avinu fought with a “man” until daybreak. Rashi explains that this “man” was actually the angel of Esav.

This week we learn that when Yosef Hatzaddik was sent by his father to check on the welfare of his brothers, a “man” met him in the field. Once again we discover that this “man” was actually an angel. But this time it isn’t the evil angel of Esav but the malach Gavriel.

How did Rashi know which angel each “man” was? Simple; it depends on how the angel is behaving.

When Yaakov Avinu asked the angel for a favor — to bless him — the angel refused, saying that dawn had arrived and he had to go sing shirah — he had to go daven!

The angel that met Yosef Hatzaddik greeted him with an immediate offer of assistance, asking him “What are you looking for?”

This must be the malach Gavriel!


Parents would fairly often bring bar-mitzvah bachurim to Hagaon Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, so that the Rosh Yeshivah would put their tefillin on them for the first time.

Usually they would schedule it in advance, and Rav Pam would come earlier that usual to Yeshivah. On one occasion the parents did not inform Rav Pam, and the Rosh Yeshivah came as usual punctually on time to davening. The Rosh Yeshivah instructed that davening should start without him, and went to his office to put the tefillin on the bachur.

Shortly thereafter a talmid noticed Rav Pam, who had still to start davening himself, walk into the lobby of the building, clearly looking for someone.

The bachur rushed over to Rav Pam, eager to be of assistance.

“Did you perhaps notice where the mother of the bar-mitzvah bachur went?” Rav Pam asked him. “I wanted to tell her that in my office there’s a window to the beis medrash. She would have much nachas watching her son daven for the first time in tefillin…”

A person must always weigh what Hashem wishes from him at that moment. What was obligatory a minute earlier or an hour later may be wrong now. There are times when refusing to do a chessed at a time of davening is wrong, and there are times when doing chessed instead of learning is also wrong. Only through careful consideration and guidance from mentors can a person successfully navigate his hour-by-hour obligations.

We must also be aware of what is truly motivating our actions and what is really behind our emotions.

The Torah informs us that after throwing Yosef into a snake pit, the brothers sat down to eat a meal.

How could the Shevatim eat at such a time? A beis din that was involved in sentencing a person in a capital case was prohibited to eat anything all day (Sanhedrin 63a). Certainly, as their own brother cried and pleaded for mercy, how could they eat?

The Bnei Yisascher (in Agra D’Kallah) answers by quoting Harav Menachem Mendel, the Rebbe of Rimanov, zy”a, who said that a man should make certain not to come home famished, as this could bring him to grow angry at family members.

The Shevatim wanted to make certain that what they were considering doing to Yosef was lawful, and not influenced in any way by the fact that they were hungry. Therefore they sat down and ate a meal before deciding his fate.


In the frenetic lifestyle that characterizes our generation, many of us get far less sleep than our bodies need, and many don’t schedule meals regularly either. This is wearing to our emotions, weakening our ability to keep anger or irritability in check. While catching a nap before coming home is rarely practical, having a small snack (one that will leave plenty of room for dinner) certainly is an idea worth considering.

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