The Angel Behind the People

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה מַה תִּצְעַק אֵלָי דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִסָּעוּ

Hashem said to Moshe, “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and they shall travel forth!” (14:15)

Commenting on this verse, The Mechilta[1] cites the words of R’ Yehoshua:

“Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Moshe, ‘There is nothing for the [Children of] Israel to do except to travel forth.’”

The Meshech Chochmah explains the intent of this statement as follows. Up until this point, the Jewish people had been faithfully following Moshe through the wilderness, like a flock follows its shepherd. However, the miracle that was about to be performed – the splitting of the Red Sea – would be in the merit of the faith of the Jewish People. To this end, Moshe was told to instruct the people to travel forward – while he himself stayed behind! For the people to follow his instruction, moving towards the sea by themselves, would be a supreme display of faith in whose merit the waters would part.

In this vein the Meshech Chochmah explains verse 19 which says, “The angel of God who had been going in front of the camp of Israel moved and went behind them.” We find that the prophets are referred to as angels.[2] In this instance, too, the angel was Moshe himself, who moved behind the camp and told them to travel forward by themselves. Further confirmation of this idea comes from the Midrash’s account of how, when the people hesitated to actually enter the sea, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped in.[3] This likewise indicates that Moshe was not travelling first on that occasion; rather, it was left to the people to travel forward, and for one of their number to make the decision to enter the sea, and in that merit, the waters parted.


A Jar of Manna before the Ark of Testimony

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' מְלֹא הָעֹמֶר מִמֶּנּוּ לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם לְמַעַן יִרְאוּ אֶת הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר הֶאֱכַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּהוֹצִיאִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן קַח צִנְצֶנֶת אַחַת וְתֶן שָׁמָּה מְלֹא הָעֹמֶר מָן וְהַנַּח אֹתוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם.

כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיַּנִּיחֵהוּ אַהֲרֹן לִפְנֵי הָעֵדֻת לְמִשְׁמָרֶת.

Moshe said, “This is the thing that Hashem commanded, a full omer of it shall be a safekeeping for your generations, so that they will see the food with which I fed you in the Wilderness when I took you out of Egypt”

Moshe said to Aharon, “Take one jar and put an omer into it, and place it before Hashem as a safekeeping for your generations”

As Hashem had commanded Moshe, Aharon placed it before the [Ark of] testimony as a safekeeping. (16:32-24)

The final verse seems to present a difficulty, for it begins by saying that the command to place the manna away for safekeeping was specifically given “אֶל מֹשֶׁה – to Moshe”, and yet concludes by saying that Aharon was the one who did it!

Actually, the expression “אֶל מֹשֶׁה” is itself noteworthy; indeed, this is the only time in the entire Chumash that this expression appears. Every other time it says, “כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֶת מֹשֶׁה”. What is the difference between “commanding (es) Moshe” and “commanding to (el) Moshe”?

The Meshech Chochmah prefaces his explanation by noting that Hashem’s original command to Moshe, contained in verse 32, makes no mention of where the manna should be placed, only that it should be put away as a safekeeping. It is only in the verses that follow that Moshe specifies that it should be “Before Hashem,” i.e., before the Ark of the Testimony. The reason for this is very simply that at the time the events in our parsha took place, there was no Ark, for the Mishkan and its vessels had not yet been built. Indeed, verses 33-34, where Moshe tells Aharon to place the manna “before Hashem,” i.e. before the Ark, were necessarily said at a later stage – at least almost a year later, when the Mishkan and the Ark had been made.

In fact, says Meshech Chochmah, the placing of the manna before the Ark actually took place a few months after the Mishkan had been built. This emerges from raising the following basic question: Given that Hashem only told Moshe to place the manna “as a safekeeping,” how did Moshe know that this meant (when the possibility arose) to place it before the Ark?

The Gemara explains that Moshe derived this from something that was said to him by Hashem later on:

·      In our parsha, he was told by Hashem to place the manna away as a “mishmeres”

·      In Parshas Korach, he was told by Hashem to return Aharon’s staff “before the [Ark of] testimony as a mishmeres”[4]

Invoking the principle of gezeirah shavah, Moshe expounded that just as the term “mishmeres” in the later episode denoted being placed before the Ark, so too, the term used earlier with regards to the manna meant that it should be placed there.[5]

What emerges is that Moshe’s instruction to Aharon in verse 33 to place the manna “Before Hashem”, was actually based on a command that he had received from Hashem elsewhere regarding a different item. This then is the meaning of the concluding verse, which states that “As Hashem had (subsequently) commanded to Moshe” – i.e. that he place Aharon’s staff before the testimony, so too, here – “Aharon placed [the manna] before the [Ark of] testimony as a safekeeping”.

It is for this reason our verse uses the unique phrase “el Moshe – to Moshe,” and not the usual “es Moshe”. Had it written “es Moshe,” we would have understood these words as referring to the command in our verse, i.e. that Moshe was commanded here to tell Aharon to place the manna before the Ark. Therefore, the verses uses the term “el Moshe,” to emphasize that the command being referred to was one that was given to Moshe for him to do – not here with the manna, but later on with Aharon’s staff.

[1] Beshalach sec. 3.

[2] See Chagai 1:13, “Chagai, the Angel of God, said,” and Vayikra Rabbah 1:1, “We find that the prophets are referred to as angels.”

[3] See Mechilta sec. 5, and Tosefta Berachos 4:16.

[4] Bamidbar 17:25.

[5] Kerisus 5b, Horayos 12a.