In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, in the book of Exodus God sends an angel of protection for the people of Israel. This angel is a guide to the Promised Land. ” I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready” (Ex. 23:20). Until this moment from the actually plagues God sent to Egypt to Mt. Sinai, God has been in the midst of the people. The God called out to the people at Mt. Sinai. God split the sea and God spoke directly with Moses. But now as the great commentator Abarbanel asks “Why does God suddenly decide to remove God’s personal providence from Israel providing instead and angel to govern them?”
This angel has been very controversial among our Sages. Some like Rashi claim this is because it is a prediction of future time when the children of Israel will sin. But in Exodus Rabbah the angel is in place of God because of the sin of the Golden Calf. While Nachmanides says that this didn’t happen at all – a decree that wasn’t fulfilled because God did dwell in their midst when the Tabernacle was built. Ibn Ezra uses this verse to say that the angels are only a reflection of the Divine light and thus God still dwells in their midst even though an angel is mentioned. This angel will lead the children of Israel through the wilderness and will help them in battle. And yet other commentators say this is not an angel but another prophet or messenger, like Joshua who will help lead the children of Israel in battle in the future.
This angel is an extension of the Divine strength and glory; whether human or Divine. This being will channel the divine forces on behalf of the Children of Israel. Ultimately God does dwell in the people’s midst. And in next week’s Torah portion Terumah the instructions for building God’s tabernacle, God’s first earthly home, is given. And so until God’s home is complete-God’s messenger will be present for the people. The Divine guidance and protection is still present until the time that God’s house is ready.
In our day and time we must ask, “How today do we bring God’s presence into our lives? How do we bring the holy light of the Divine knowledge and Divine glory to bear on our lives. How do we make our lives a house for God to dwell?” That is the real question before us.
So in this week when we read of the angel that will dwell in our people’s midst–let us look to seek out the angels in our midst. They are there –we just have to open our eyes.