B’shallach: Higher than angels

Egyptians drowing in the seaTalmud  Tractate Megillah 10b: As the Egyptians started to drown in the Red Sea, the heavenly hosts began to sing praises, but God silenced the angels, saying, “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises!”

It’s Beshallach, when we cross the Sea of Reeds, embarking on our new journey to freedom from slavery in Egypt. After we crossed the waters that had miraculously separated, allowing us to walk on dry land, the Egyptian Army followed after us, led by Pharoah. The waters, however, crashed in on them, drowning them all. Our oppressors were destroyed, our escape ensured, our future ahead of us unencumbered by the slavery of the past.

Then the angels rejoiced, and promptly got scolded by God. The Egyptians may have been our enemies, but they were still creatures who had been created by God. On the surface, the lesson seems to be that we shouldn’t celebrate death.

Yet, that’s exactly what Moses and Miriam do after we get to the other side. Moses leads the people in the song of praise, Shirat HaYam, the song of the sea, saying, “ Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea…[they] are drowned in the Sea of Reeds…You sent forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw…the earth swallowed them..” (Ex 15)

So humans get to rejoice and celebrate the death of their enemies, but it’s bad form for angels to do it? It seems that God expect much more empathy from celestial beings, but there are no such expectations from mere humans, otherwise God would have been upset with the Israelites, too.   Both angels and humans had the same reaction, yet one received immediate disapproval.

This Midrash is teaching us not only that death diminishes us all, but that unlike angels, we can hold the relief and joy at being saved, but not forget that others suffered. We are able to hold opposite and conflicting concepts at the same time.

Right now, there is far too much rejoicing at the deaths of our enemies – all enemies, in fact. We seek the “zero sum game” solutions. If I win, you have to lose, and if you win, I have to lose. Angels may not be able to hold conflicting ideas, but we can, and we must. We must aspire to go higher than the angels. We must be human.

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