Parashas Mishpatim

Near the end of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells the Jewish People (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 interprets this verse as referring to the events that occurred after the sin of the golden calf. The Midrash, building on Tehillim 82:6, expounds as follows (Shemos Rabbah 32:1):
Behold, I am sending an angel before you. Thus it is written (Tehillim 82:6): “I said, ‘You are a celestial being – sons of the Most High are you all.’” Had the Jewish People waited for Moshe and not committed that deed, neither the nations of the world nor the Angel of Death would have had dominion over them. … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “I issued one commandment to Adam so that he would fulfill it, and I compared him to the ministering angels, as it is written (Bereishis 3:22, homiletically), ‘Behold, man was like the unique one among us.’ These are those who fulfill the 613 mitzvos … isn’t it proper that they should live forever?’” … But because they said, “This is your god, O Yisrael” (Shemos 32:34), death came upon them. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “You have followed the path of Adam, who did not stand up to the test. ‘I said, “You are a celestial being.”’ But since you acted as Adam did, ‘But like a man, you shall die’ (the continuation of Tehillim 82:6).”
The Maggid draws a connection between this Midrash and another Midrash that expounds on Tehillim 82:6 (Bamidbar Rabbah 7:4):
At the time that God sent the people the manna, He performed for them a number of miracles. … They did not need to release waste as ordinary men do. … God said: “Should My sons need to release waste? I decreed that they should be celestial beings, as it is written (Tehillim 82:6), ‘I said, “You are a celestial being.”’ Just like the angels do not need to release waste, so, too, they should not need to do so. … The Jews made jest of their not having to release waste. … At that time God said … (Bamidbar 14:11): “How long will this people provoke Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me, as I perform signs in their midst?”
For future reference, let us note that the section of the Torah in which this outcry of exasperation appears is not the section recounting the complaints about the manna, but rather the section recounting the sin of the spies.
The Maggid raises two questions about this Midrash. First, how exactly does Tehillim 82:6 indicate that the Jews who ate manna did not need to release waste? Second, couldn’t Hashem have granted them a greater favor? Having to release waste is admittedly degrading, but there are other more degrading activities than man must engage in. Why, then, did Hashem see fit to free the Jews from this specific activity?
The Maggid explains the matter by homing in on a point of phrasing in Tehillim 82:6. The verse describes Hashem as saying, “You are a celestial being – sons of the Most High are you all.” The word “all” here seems superfluous. What is the import of this added word? The Maggid turns to a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 14:3:
Hashem created man as a celestial being and as an earthly being in four respects. Man eats and drinks like an animal, reproduces like an animal, releases waste like an animal, and dies like an animal. At the same time he stands upright like an angel, and speaks, understands and sees like an angel. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “If I create him as a celestial being, he will live and not die, and if I create him as an earthly being he will die and not live. So I will create him with some features of the celestial beings and some features of the earthly beings. If he sins, he will die, and if not, he will live.”
During the time Hashem provided the Jews with manna – a food that is absorbed into the body with no waste – the Jews were like angels in five respects and like animals in only three. And after the revelation at Sinai, they reached the state that Adam was in before he sinned (see, e.g., Shabbos 146a), making it fitting that they be immortal. With these points in mind, we can understand Tehillim 82:6 very simply. The word “all” in the verse is not meant to indicate that all the Jews were like sons of the Most High. Rather, it is meant to indicate that each individual Jew was entirely like a son of the Most High, with the term “entirely” being used, as it often is, to mean “in the main.” That is, the Jews were more like celestial beings than earthly beings.
But then the Jews committed the sin of the golden calf. With this sin, they imposed on themselves and their descendants a death sentence, just as Adam had when he committed his sin. And the later sins that the Jews committed in the wilderness nailed in this sentence. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 16:14 describes this process. The Midrash expounds on Mishlei 1:25: “You subverted all My counsel, and My reproof you did not desire.” It lists a series of blessings that Hashem granted the Jews during the Exodus and in the wilderness, and then describes how the Jews spoiled these blessings with their sinning and complaining. The Midrash mentions the sin of the spies (which prompted an outcry from Hashem, as noted above) and the complaining about the manna. And the Midrash describes Hashem’s reaction:
“But like a man, you shall die” – like Adam. I gave him one commandment through which, if he fulfilled it, he would live forever … but he acted ruinously and ate from the tree, and I said to him (Bereishis 3:19): “For you are made of earth, and to the earth you shall return.” It is the same with you. I told you, “You are a celestial being,” but you ruined yourselves, and therefore, “But like a man, you shall die.” And what caused this? You subverted all My counsel  –  with the blessings I granted you, you angered Me.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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