Torah Fax

Friday, February 6, 2004 - 14 Shevat, 5764

Torah Reading:Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:00 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:03 PM
Shabbat Shirah - Tu BiShevat 

Ahead of the Curve

Right after Moses was instructed by G‑d to strike the Red Sea so that it would split, the Torah states that "the angel of G‑d, who has been going in front of the Israelite camp, moved and went behind them."

Rashi and other commentators explain that the function of the angels at this point was to serve as a shield for the Israelites to protect them from the arrows and spears of the pursuing Egyptians.

Several questions, that have been raised by Biblical commentators, come to mind: First,  why did G‑d have to move the angels from their position in front of the Israelites to the back? Couldn't G‑d have just simply sent other angels to take up the position behind the Israelite lines? Second, there are two names that are used in the Torah for G‑d. One is the four letter name, known as the Tetragrammaton, which is the name of G‑d that is associated with His attribute of mercy.  The other name is Elokim, which connotes G‑d's attribute of justice. In this narrative, when describing the angels that took their position behind the Israelites, they are described as the "angels of Elokim." Why the use of this name, which usually describes G‑d in His mode of judgment and not the name that expresses G‑d's attribute of mercy? Isn't the act of sending angles to protect the Israelites from the assaults of the Egyptian army an act of Divine benevolence rather than an act of Divine judgment?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev provides a novel insight into the use of angels here that will shed light on the forgoing questions. What follows is an exposition of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's commentary based on his work Kedushat Levi:

Angels are spiritual beings that possess no free choice and that are totally devoted to G‑d. Obviously, humans who have inclinations for evil are spiritually inferior to angels. However, when G‑d shows His love for the Israelites-as He did at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea-G‑d removed the angels from their pre-eminent position ahead of the Israelites and put them behind the Israelite camp. By doing so, G‑d symbolically demonstrated that the Israelites were superior to the angels.

We must still try to understand the changing of the status of angels. If the angels are indeed superior to the Israelites why did G‑d reverse that by placing them behind the Israelites? What did the Jewish people do that merited their being placed ahead of the angels?

To understand this we must preface Maimonides' interpretation of angels. In addition to the simple explanation that angels are spiritual forces, angels are also metaphoric terms to describe the laws of nature. Up until the critical moment when the Egyptians were pursuing the Israelites, the fledgling Jewish nation was subject to the laws of nature. True, miracles did happen. The ten plagues that devastated Egypt were clearly beyond the realm of nature. However, the plagues were G‑d's way of interjecting Himself into nature. It did not mean that the Israelites had the ability to transcend nature.

This, then is the symbolism in the stationing of the angels of G‑d-Elokim ahead of the Israelites. When the Torah describes the angels as Angels of Elokim it means that they are instruments of the Divine name that is associated with nature. Indeed, the name Elokim is numerically equivalent to the word Hateva, which means nature. By placing these angels before the Israelites, G‑d was telling the Jews that they were still subordinate to the laws of nature.

This, however, changed for good once the Jewish people were ready to cross the Red Sea and sever their ties with the Egyptian people and the Egyptian way of life. At this point, G‑d elevated the Jewish nation to a new status. They were now going to be ahead of the forces of nature. From that time onward, the Jewish people's very existence dramatizes their transcendence over the natural forces. Indeed, by all counts, we should not have survived after centuries and millennia of persecution and assimilation, yet we have not only survived, we have flourished. This power of transcendence over nature was finalized at Sinai, but was initiated right before the Jews were to cross the Red Sea.

Whenever we consider the future of the Jewish people and the Biblical promises of the Redemption, we frequently express skepticism: How can we possibly counter the forces of exile. These angels of G‑d, the forces of nature, are too formidable for us to overcome. According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the message of  the angels moving behind the Jews is that we are the masters of our destiny and future and even the angels of G‑d, so to speak, will take a back seat and separate us from the arrows and spears hurled at us by our adversaries throughout history.
Moshiach Matters

 One of the characteristics of Moshiach is that he will be a “poor person, riding on a donkey” (Zachariah 9:9). This implies that even those that laughed at Moshiach and didn’t believe in his coming will be atoned for by Moshiach and (instead of being punished....) they will be redeemed together with everyone else... (Pesikta on the above verse)

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