Back in Parshas Shemos, we discussed Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader in the long and illustrious history of the Jewish People. We brought the story of the Burning Bush to show examples of his greatness and how he was able to use all aspects of his existence, physical and spiritual, to serve Hashem. That story took place even before Moshe was leader of Bnei Yisrael! In this week’s Parshah, when Bnei Yisrael have now become a nation and accepted the Torah, we find more examples of Moshe’s greatness.
The first pasuk of Shishi says, “הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ” “Behold! I send an angel before you…” (Shemos 23:20). Hashem tells Moshe that at some point during the Bnei Yisrael’s trip through the desert he will stop resting his Shechinah directly on Bnei Yisrael and an angel will take his place in leading them through the desert. Rashi explains that later on in Parshas Ki Sisa (33:2-3), after the Bnei Yisrael sin with the Golden Calf, Hashem tells Moshe that he will no longer rest his Shechinah on them. He says that Hashem is telling Moshe now that soon that day will come when a malach will lead Bnei Yisrael through the desert.
The Ramban asks on Rashi’s explanation here. He says that we know from the Gemarah that this punishment never took place; when Hashem told Moshe what he was planning, Moshe davened that the Shechinah should stay, and it did! So how can Rashi say that this pasuk is referring to that “eventual” event?
He answers that while Hashem’s presence remained within the nation during the time of Moshe, after Moshe died, in the time of Yehoshua, a malach took over. The pasuk says in Sefer Yehoshua, “כִּי אֲנִי שַׂר-צְבָא-יְהוָה--עַתָּה בָאתִי…וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אִישׁ עֹמֵד לְנֶגְדּוֹ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ” “And he (Yehoshua) lifted his eyes and saw and behold!- a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand…(the man said) I am the commander of Hashem’s legion” (Yehoshua 5:13-14). The “man” was really a malach of Hashem coming to take control of the Jewish army before their attack on Yericho. This is when our pasuk was fulfilled. Throughout the entire time of Moshe, Hashem himself stayed with the camp but after Moshe’s death, an angel took over.
But why did the angel come then? What was it about Moshe that Hashem did not send an angel till after Moshe’s death? The Ramban explains that this angel which came to Yehoshua was none other than the מלאך הגואל, the “redeeming angel” that Yaakov spoke about in his famous bracha to Menashe and Efraim, which we say every night before we go to sleep. This angel was the messenger of Hashem who was there for Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov in their times of need. (The Ramban brings pesukim showing examples for each one of the Avos, but this is not the place to bring them. For further research, see the Ramban inside.) The medrash says, “א"ל הקב"ה למשה הם מי ששמר את האבות הוא ישמור את הבנים” “Hashem said to Moshe, he who watched over the Fathers will watch over the sons” (Shemos Rabba 32:9), the same angel who watched over our Forefathers should also watch over us, their children. This strengthens our question even more! Why shouldn’t this angel watch over Bnei Yisrael even in the time of Moshe? The Ramban explains that while Moshe was alive, he filled the position of the angel. While he was leading Bnei Yisrael, it was as if the מלאך הגואל himself was watching over them. Wow! Moshe took the place of an angel! How was he able to fill such big shoes?
Later on in the Parshah, Moshe approaches Har Sinai together with Aharon, Nadav and Avihu (Aharon’s sons), and the Zekeinim. The pasuk says, “וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ” “…and they perceived G-d, and they ate and they drank.” (Shemos 24:11). Rashi says Nadav, Avihu and the Zekeinim saw Hashem, then went and ate and drank. They then became haughty about what they had perceived as a result of their gorging. It’s easy to see that they sinned by overindulging but how could these great tzaddikim even make this mistake in the first place?
The Kli Yakar explains that this whole episode shows the difference between Moshe’s Nevuah (Level of Prophecy) and the Nevuah of everyone else. Malachim are created completely spiritual with no physical needs. This puts them to a certain degree on a higher spiritual level than human beings. People who are created with a physical side must train themselves to use their physical abilities for spirituality. Moshe was the only prophet to speak to G-d “face to face”. At this point in time, when he ascended Har Sinai for forty days, he reached so high a level that he no longer needed his physical side! He connected to Hashem, even as a human, from a completely spiritual perspective. In fact, the Gemarah in Yoma (4b) explains that the first six days Moshe spent on the mountain were used to purge his body of all remaining food and water, so that he would benefit only from the spiritual influence of Hashem. (The pasuk later on says that Moshe did not eat or drink the entire time he was on Har Sinai.) Everyone else, however, still had to use their physical characteristics to try and connect to Hashem. Therefore, immediately after “seeing” Hashem, they went to eat and drink to try to connect to Hashem that way. Rashi explains that they failed in that regard. Moshe didn’t need that; his physical side had completely disappeared leaving him on the same level as an angel.
We explained back in Parshas Shemos that Moshe is compared to the sun because he was light on all “sides”, meaning all aspects of his life. But his student, Yehoshua, is compared to the moon. While one side is lit up, but the other side is always dark. We see again how lucky that generation was, and how lucky we are as a nation, that we once had a leader like Moshe Rabbeinu. May we be zoche to once again have a leader like Moshe and may we be able to reach his level, where even our physical strengths are used completely for spiritual growth.
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