When the Children of Israel are finally
released from Egypt, Hashem leads them:
But Hashem has been grooming Moshe as His messenger, the leader of His people. In BESHALACH we see many of Moshe’s leadership qualities begin to develop. At the Sea of Reeds the panicking people turn to Moshe for help, and he assures them that Hashem will rescue them from the oncoming Egyptian army. Then, And Hashem said to Moshe, “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall travel. And you, raise your staff and extend your hand over the sea and split it. Then the Children of Israel will cross in the midst of the sea on the dry land” (14:15- 6).
Thus, Hashem will lure the Egyptians to their doom. Immediately before the Sea is split, however, And the angel (MALACH) of G-d, that went before the camp of Israel, traveled and went behind them. And the pillar of cloud traveled from before them and it stood from behind them. And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness, and it lit up the night, and one did not approach the other all the night (14:19-20).
It is usually assumed that the angel (MALACH)
of G-d, that went before the camp of Israel refers to an angelic being whose
movement to the rear of the camp causes the pillar of cloud to relocate there as
well. However, Meshech Chochmah (R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926) has a
different interpretation. He says that the angel of G-d, that went before the
camp of Israel refers to Moshe! The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 1:1) establishes that
a prophet can be called MALACH. Examples include Chaggai:
Meshech Chochmah quotes Mechilta (Beshalach, Vayehi 3), which is also found in Rashi: R. Yehoshua said: The Holy One, Blessed be He said to Moshe, “Moshe, there is nothing for Israel to do but to travel.” R. Meir Simcha goes on to explain, “All of the Children of Israel would follow Moshe as the flock in the valley follows the shepherd. However at the Sea, the Holy One, Blessed be He commanded Moshe to travel after the people. Trusting him, they would go ahead into the midst of the sea. … And when it says Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall travel – they will travel, with you behind them.”
In the merit of moving forward into the water Hashem would split the sea for them. Mechilta (5) further says that the Children of Israel debated who should go in first, and “While they were taking counsel Nachshon son of Aminadav jumped in … into the waves of the sea.” Tosefta (Berachot 4:16) says that in the merit of Nachshon’s act, his tribe Yehudah deserved to produce the kings of Israel.
Towards the end of BESHALACH Moshe faces a new challenge. While in Refidim, the people complain that there is no water to drink. When Moshe turns to Hashem for help, And Hashem said to Moshe, “Pass in front of the people and take with you of the elders of Israel, and your staff with which you struck the Nile take in your hand, and go. Behold I am standing ahead of you there on the rock at Chorev. And you shall strike the rock, and water will come forth from it and the people will drink” (17:5-6). Ramban explain that the command Pass in front of the people means “Walk ahead of the people.” He points out that there is a great distance from Refidim to the boulder at Chorev, which is Mount Sinai (some modern calculations estimate it as much as 10 miles away). Hashem commands Moshe to walk ahead of the people from Refidim to the Presence of Hashem at Chorev, and there to strike the rock. He would use the same staff that had once turned the water of the Nile into blood and now it would produce water from a stone. The water would then flow all the way to the camp in Refidim.
BESHALACH is thus punctuated by two incidents which show the positions Moshe, the leader, will need to take vis-à-vis the people: While he is usually the angel (MALACH) of G-d, that went before the camp of Israel, at times he allows the people to lead him, or he ventures far ahead of them. This foreshadows the many leadership stances he will have to assume.
In BESHALACH Moshe makes the transition from messenger to Pharaoh to the shepherd of Hashem’s flock. He becomes the leader of the Children of Israel throughout their journeys in the desert. On occasion he will have to be the vanguard, showing from a distance what are Hashem’s expectations. But he will have to be the type of leader who also knows when to “step to the rear,” when to allow his people to show their faith in him and in Hashem. A true leader, Moshe knows when to take the people where they need to go, and when to trust them to go where they have been directed.