Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Parshat Beshalach

The Angel and the Cloud

When Israel left Egypt "the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to cause it to lead them on the way and at night in a pillar of fire to give them light, [they thus could] travel day and night" (Shemot 13:21).

Nevertheless, within a few days, the Egyptian army had caught up with them and was ready to strike when they were trapped at the sea.

Before the sea split, giving Israel an escape route, God created some distance between the advancing Egyptians and the escaping Israelites. He did this by moving the pillar of cloud that was leading the people and moved it behind the people.

"Then the angel of God, who had been going in front of the Israelite camp, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved away from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and there were the cloud and the darkness, and it illuminated the night, and one did not draw near the other all night long" (ibid 14:19-20).

This first passuk seems to be describing two movements, that of the pillar of cloud and that of an angel. Yet then the second passuk is in the singular, describing the result of the movement.

This means that there was only one movement and that the pillar of cloud was the angel. What does this mean?

When we think of angels, we generally imagine humanoid beings. Indeed, these types of beings were encountered by Avraham and Lot (Bereshit 18-19), Yaakov (ibid 32: 24-30), Bilam (Bemidbar 22:31) and many others.

Nevertheless, the term angel in Hebrew is "malakh" – it actually means messengers (see Bereshit 32:30, Bemidba 20:24, 21:21, Shoftim 11:12 and many others).

A messenger of God gives a message from God. That messenger, therefore, does not have to be humanlike, it could take any form, from humans to animals and even inanimate objects.

When Devorah said to Barak (this week's haftarah on Mount Tabor: "Does not the Lord go out before you?" (Shoftim 4:14), she was not seeing God Himself coming out towards them. She most likely saw rain clouds beginning to come out or even the rain, that would flood the Kishon wadi and sweep away Sisera's army (see ibid 5:4,21).

She interpreted the clouds as a messenger of God, giving Israel victorious tidings.

So too in our case, the angel was not a physical manifestation of human, but a cloud.

The Torah is teaching us an important message. In an age where we lack prophecy, we still do not lack the message of God. He is constantly giving us messages. Like Devorah, we have to be prepared to see Him in them.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Beshalach, entitled: "The Miracle at the Sea" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2008/01/parshat-beshalach-miracle-at-sea.html

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Beshalach, entitled: "The Shorter Way" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2007/01/parshat-beshalach-shorter-way-ive.html.

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Beshalach, entitled: "The 3 Day Game" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2006/02/parshat-beshalach-3-day-game-it-was.html

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