Friday, January 29, 2010

Ain't It Just Like the Night...

In BeShalach, this week's parsha, we find the record of the Jews leaving Mitzrayim (Egypt). When they exited, the Torah tells us, "VaHashem hoileich lifneihem yoimam b'amud onon lanchoisom haderech, v'laylo b'amud aish l'ho'ir lohem," ("And G-d goes before them by day in a pillar of clouds to guide them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire providing them with light"). The Medrash teaches that anytime the Torah says, "And G-d", it refers to G-d and the Heavenly court of judgement. If the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire were both meant for the good of the Jews, why do we see the reference to G-d and the court of judgement?

In his commentary on Shemos (Exodus) 21:1, Rashi explains that the Torah and the precepts within the Torah should be set out before each person in a way that is easy to understand and access based on each person's individual level. The same is meant in the verse in the opening paragraph, "G-d goes before them." This is to teach us that at all times, both when life is good and easy (day) and when we are suffering difficulties in our lives (night), G-d and the precepts in the Torah are meant to be there for our good, guiding our way in the daytime, and showing us light in our personal nights.

From the Gemara, we see that miracles from the Jews' time in the desert were used to answer specific Jewish legal questions. For instance, if there was a dispute over the ownership of a slave, the community would watch to see near whose tent the extra manna for the slave fell, and this would show who owned the slave. If this is so, a large Jewish legal discussion could have been answered by the pillars of fire and cloud. In Judaism, there is a great debate over when the day ends and night begins, as the time determines when holidays, Shabbos (the Sabbath), and other things begin and end. Even today, since the time is unclear, people are strict to start holidays before it is fully night, and end them a while after night has already fallen. If the pillars of cloud and fire changed based on whether it was day or night, it should be easy to determine the actual time of night, since one could have watched the pillars. The Aish Kodesh answers that this is not the case. As we showed based on Rashi's explanation of the verse in Shemos (Exodus), saying that something is "before them" means that it is according to the needs of the people. Therefore, it is possible that there were times when the Jewish people could not see so well, regardless of it still technically being day, and so the pillar of fire would appear. This reinforces the principle that G-d is with us, being present with us in the form that we need when we need it.

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