“A Messenger: With or Without Me” — Rav Jonathan Bailey In this week’s parsha, God tells Moshe that a ‘malakh’, a messenger, will be sent to lead the nation through the desert to Eretz Yisrael. In its description, the Torah uses four different methods in which to convey that this ‘malakh’ is from God: 1) ‘I am sending a messenger’ (23; 20); 2) ‘I’m in him’ (21); 3) ‘Listen to his voice and all I say’ (21); 4) ‘My messenger that I am sending’ (23). The placement of this section immediately precedes the warning not to bow down to the ‘Canaan’ inhabitants’ idols when they get there so that God will then ‘destroy them all for you and bless your bread and water’. Why is Bnei Yisrael told specifically here that a messenger will be sent before them? What connection does it have with the preceding instruction? As the laws were conveyed, and with them now ready for their journey into the land of Israel, they could easily be misled (still) and believe thatMoshe is doing everything for their success (the constant fight Moshe is was raging against from the very first day and then throughout their sojourn in the desert) and that he’s the god (just like the Canaanites do with their ‘idols’ – imposing godly status on the physical)! So God once again lays out a system with which to prevent this heinous mistake: know that he (the messenger- perhaps Moshe himself or perhaps a conceptual example to learn from of the correct understanding of all their leaders for now and in the future) is My messenger, that I am in him, all he says is really My word and he is just My messenger. Conscious of this relationship, practiced in its application, they will not stumble when they get to Israel and become immediately and intensely exposed to the nations’ gods; they will not be accustomed, or feel it necessary, to relate to the tangible gods used there. Rather they will serve God only, correctly, and then He will, in return, oust the nations for them and bless their production. Strangely though, this very same language of ‘sending a messenger before you’ is used later on, after the sin with the Golden Calf, and there it is used as a punishment! (33, 2-4) In Ki Tisah, God says I will send a messenger because ‘I am not going to be with you lest I consume you on the way [for getting Me angry like you did just now]’. How can the same ‘sending’ of a messenger be an instructive, God-present exercise in one case and be a punishment (due to God’s absence) in another case? This second ‘sending’ follows right on the heals of the sin with the golden calf, the most horrid manifestation of the nation’s inability to relate to God’s intangibility and their destructive need to relate to corporeal gods instead. At this point God says, ‘fine, you do not want the relationship with Me? You would rather depend on your tangible gods? I will send a messenger to lead you to Israel, this I promised earlier; however, now the messenger will be on his own (i.e. I will not be in him, I will not be speaking through him, etc.). You rejected Me from within your lives? Fine, I will therefore make it so!’ The first ‘sending’ was God’s description of the ideal relationship (to be led by a messenger with the understanding of from where and for Whom he is in fact working for) but once they demonstrate they can’t and don’t want to live by that relationship, the new ‘sending’ is the manifestation of this reluctance and therefore the messenger is now sent ‘without God’ as they ‘desired’ all along. The brilliant usage by God to illustrate both the ideal and the most abysmal acceptance of God in their lives through the very same mediumonce again demonstrates God’s perfect method of rebuke and teaching. When He punishes, He doesn’t just find the worst punishment and let loose- He uses the punishment that best illustrates the mistake that led to the castigation; when He rewards, He bestows the reward that best demonstrates the reason why such a prize was received. God is alwaysteaching, in reward and punishment, and understanding this concept allows us to comprehend more deeply, and learn much more significantly from many events of reward and punishment found in the Torah.