Parashas Mishpatim

Near the end of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 23:20): “Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on the way, and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” The Midrash recounts Moshe’s reaction (Shemos Rabbah 32:8):
Moshe said to Him: “You are sending an angel with me? Was this the arrangement we made? Didn’t You say, ‘and I will go down to save them from the hands of Egypt and bring them up from this land [Egypt]’ (Shemos 3:8)? And now You say, ‘behold, I am sending an angel before you’? If Your Presence does not go along [with us], do not bring us up from here (Shemos 33:15). Hashem replied (Shemos 33:3): “I shall not go up among you.” Moshe declared: “You say that you will send an angel and I have insisted that You go Yourself. We will see whose word stands.” … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to him: “By your life, My Presence will go [with you] and provide you rest” (ibid 33:14). And a heavenly voice cried out (Koheles 8:4-5): “In regard to the King’s word being law, who can say to Him: ‘What are You doing?’ He who observes the mitzvos will know no evil.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash in terms of two modes of operation that Hashem uses to save us from our enemies. He brings out the point with an analogy. Suppose a person sees a friend of his fighting with someone else, and he seeks to help him. He can provide help in one of two ways. He can either do something that improves his friend’s position, or do something that weakens his friend’s opponent. Similarly, when we are threatened by an enemy, Hashem can help us either by improving our position or by weakening our enemy, along the lines of the Torah’s statement in Devarim 28:7 that if we obey Hashem’s commands He will cause our enemies to be struck down. An example of a situation where Hashem improved our position is the episode where Pharaoh sought to bring us back to Egypt after he had released us. Hashem enveloped us with protective clouds and split the sea for us. An example of a situation where Hashem weakened our enemy is the episode where the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem and Hashem sent an angel to smite them at night. Perhaps it was these two forms of providing help that Yehoshua had in mind when he asked the sword-bearing angel, “Are you with us or with our enemies?” (Yehoshua 5:13). It is incredible that Yehoshua would think that Hashem sent the angel to help the Jewish People’s enemies. But, in light of our discussion, we can say that Yehoshua was simply asking which form of help Hashem planned to extend to us.
There is a key difference between these two modes of operation that Hashem uses to help us. When Hashem operates by improving our position and providing us with added might, He intervenes Himself, along the lines of David HaMelech’s statement that Hashem alone has true greatness and might (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:11: “Yours, Hashem, is the greatness and the might”). On the other hand, when He operates by weakening our enemy, He sends an angel to carry out His plan; since Hashem is good to all, it does not comport with His honor to act as if He is bringing evil. Thus, in the example of the Assyrian siege that we mentioned just above, Hashem sent an angel to smite the Assyrians rather than doing so Himself.
Let us analyze further the conditions under which Hashem saves us by taking action Himself and the conditions under which Hashem send an angel to smite our enemies. We can say that the matter depends on our spiritual level. In some cases, we are all righteous and spiritually whole, so that we are eminent in our own right and well deserve Hashem’s help. In other cases, we are not on such a high spiritual level, but we can still be rated as eminent in comparison with our wicked enemies. When we are eminent in our own right, Hashem honors us by intervening on our behalf Himself and granting us added might. And when we are eminent only in comparison with our enemies, He send an angel to smite our enemy, and our salvation comes as an automatic side effect of our enemies being smitten, just as our eminence emerges as a side effect of our wicked enemies being on the scene. David HaMelech speaks of the first mode of operation, declaring (Tehillim 13:3): “I shall sing to Hashem, for He has provided for me (גמל עלי).” David was saying that Hashem saved him from his enemies by providing him with added might in compensation (גמול) for his righteousness and spiritual wholeness, and not by smiting his enemies on account of their wickedness.
We now return to the Midrash with which we began. In Moshe’s time, although occasionally we faltered, on the whole we were eminent in our own right; as Bilaam put it, we were a nation that dwells alone, not being reckoned among the other nations (Bamidbar 23:9). We therefore deserved to have Hashem save us from our enemies Himself. And this is what Moshe was asking for when he said: “If Your Presence does not go along [with us], do not bring us forward from here. For how, then, will it be known that I have found favor in your eyes – I and Your people – unless you accompany us, and I and Your people will be made distinct from every nation on the face of the earth?” Moshe wanted Hashem to demonstrate overtly that it was on account of our righteousness and His resulting love for us that He came to our aid, and not merely on account of His hatred for our enemies. Our intrinsic eminence would be demonstrated by Hashem’s accompanying us and performing wonders to invest us with added might. Hashem replied: “My Presence will go [with you] and provide you rest.” Hashem told Moshe that indeed He Himself would accompany us and give us the might to overcome our enemies. This message comes out very clearly if we render the phrase והניחותי לך (and provide you rest) as indicating that Hashem would place His might at our disposal (להניח – to set down).
The Midrash concludes: “And a heavenly voice cried out: “In regard to the King’s word being law, who can say to Him: ‘What are You doing?’ He who observes the mitzvos will know no evil.” The Midrash is saying that Moshe prevailed in his plea to Hashem that He Himself would stand at our aid, and then explains the reason: “He who observes the mitzvos will know no evil.” For those who observe the mitzvos, it is not fitting to bring them salvation as a side effect of their enemies being smitten; rather, they deserve to have Hashem save them directly by standing by them and granting them added might.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.