Parashat B'shalah

God And The Angel: Leaders And Protectors

The images of the angel of God and the pillar of cloud accompanying the Israelites in the desert raise questions about effective leadership.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • The Children of Israel escape across the Sea of Reeds from Pharaoh and his army, who drown when God drives back the sea. (Exodus 13:17-14:31)

  • Moses and the Israelites sing a song praising Adonai. (Exodus 15:1-21)

  • In the wilderness, God provides the grumbling Israelites with quails and manna. God instructs the Israelites to gather and prepare on the sixth day food needed for Shabbat. (Exodus 15:22-16:36)

  • The people complain about the lack of water. Moses hits a rock with his rod and brings forth water. (Exodus 17:1-7)

  • Israel defeats Amalek, Israel's eternal enemy. God vows to blot out the memory of Amalek from the world. (Exodus 17:8-16)

Focal Point

The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud and the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night. (Exodus 14:19-20).

Your Guide

Why were the Israelites led by both the angel of God and the pillar of cloud (God)? How do the roles of God and the angel differ?

In order to be effective, must a leader position himself/herself in the front? Why or why not?

What kind of spell do you think God and the angel cast?

It is interesting to note that the text reads, "so that the one could not come near the other all through the night." Was there concern that the Israelites might visit the Egyptian camp? Why?

From what might God and the angel have been protecting the Israelites?

By the Way…

Rabbi Judah said [the following about the Israelites as they stood, afraid, at the shores of the Sea of Reeds]: One said, "I will not be the first to go down into the sea." The other said, "I will not be the first to go down into the sea." Whilst they were debating with each other, Nachshon ben Aminadav [of the tribe of Judah] plunged with his tribe after him into the waves of the sea. For this reason, Judah was granted dominion in Israel. (Talmud, Tractate Sotah 36b)

Leadership has inherent power because effecting a change in relationship systems is facilitated more fundamentally by how leaders function within their families than by the quantity of their experience. What is vital to changing any kind of "family" is not knowledge of technique or even of pathology but, rather, the capacity of the family leader to define his/her own goals and values while trying to maintain a non-anxious presence within the system. (Edward Friedman, Generation to Generation)

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Rabbi Deborah Pipe-Mazo is the director of rabbinic services for the Central Conference of American Rabbis.