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The Baal Haturim brings on Shemos 14:20 וַיָּבֹ֞א בֵּ֣ין ׀ מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֗יִם וּבֵין֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְהִ֤י הֶֽעָנָן֙ וְהַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וַיָּ֖אֶר אֶת־הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְלֹא־קָרַ֥ב זֶ֛ה אֶל־זֶ֖ה כׇּל־הַלָּֽיְלָה a very interesting Midrash from Megillah 10b

מַאי דִּכְתִיב: ״וְלֹא קָרַב זֶה אֶל זֶה כׇּל הַלָּיְלָה״ — בִּקְּשׁוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת לוֹמַר שִׁירָה, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי טוֹבְעִין בַּיָּם, וְאַתֶּם אוֹמְרִים שִׁירָה

What is the meaning of that which is written: “And the one came not near the other all the night” (Exodus 14:20)? The ministering angels wanted to sing their song, for the angels would sing songs to each other, as it states: “And they called out to each other and said” (Isaiah 6:3), but the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: The work of My hands, the Egyptians, are drowning at sea, and you wish to say songs?

He adds to it a very interesting comparison with the verse Isaiah 6:3 וְקָרָ֨א זֶ֤ה אֶל־זֶה֙ וְאָמַ֔ר קָד֧וֹשׁ קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ That is, the same ones who usually call to one another to sing Shirah, this time were not allowed to approach one another to do it. [The Maharsha makes the same suggestion in Sanhedrin 39b.]

My problem is, How does this fit with what seems to be the simple reading of the verse: "Because of the pillar of cloud, the army of Egypt and Israel were kept separate from one another that night?" It sounds very unrelated. So a general question: (a) Should Midrashim be assumed to reflect a deeper but still connected aspect of the simple Pshat? [sources?] And a specific question: (b) If so, is there a way to explain that here?

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  • לאפוקי ממדרש interesting sefaria.org/Exodus.14.20?&with=Siftei%20Chakhamim
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 5, 2023 at 23:27
  • @RabbiKaii Thank you - that's a pretty good answer: He's saying the Midrashim are arguing. Tho, it's a little hard for me to accept that there is any pshat here besides what Rashi said; it seems so clear.
    – MichoelR
    Feb 6, 2023 at 8:02
  • One thing's for sure, nobody is happy with the simplest understanding of all, that one person did not approach another. I'd love to see a "what's bothering Rashi" on this. The midrash Rashi quotes starts with this explanation: מגיד הכתוב שהיה המצרי עומד ולא היה יכול לישב יושב ולא היה יכול לעמוד
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 6, 2023 at 11:21
  • @RabbiKaii Sorry, could you flesh this out? Where is that Midrash, and what do you mean by "one person" and "another"; which people? (I would guess that Rashi felt he needed to explain "מחנות" because the verse contains four players, including cloud and darkness, so זה needs definition.)
    – MichoelR
    Feb 6, 2023 at 12:37
  • parshaponders.com/beshalach-5783
    – robev
    Feb 6, 2023 at 17:16

1 Answer 1

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There are many deeper ways of understanding this Midrash. This is also quoted in the Gemora in Megilla and sanehdrin. I was asked a very similar to this one yesterday. The question was: Why were the Jews able to sing praises and not the Angels?

This is the answer I came up with. This part of the Exodus took place before the drowning of the Egyptians. The Angels saw clearly; Hashem had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. There was no turning back for those who came to chase the Jews. The Jews had no choice but to rely on the word of Moshe that G-d told him they should go into the dangerous sea. This would be a big test. They could have surrendered back to the Egyptians. The Malchim did not dream that the Jews would do that. Although it was the night before, they already saw how the plan would unfold, they considered the Egyptians dead already. The Jews would now be the choses nation.

Hashem, at that point, quieted down the angles and said they were drowning in the sea–they were still alive. (in your eyes) yet I still give man free choice. The Egyptians can avoid drowning by doing repentance. The Jews can surrender. We still do not know the ultimate result.

Once the Jews were saved from the sea, they made known their trust in Hashem. The Egyptians and drowned and not repented, that is when Hashem allowed singing. Only once man has made his free choice it is not fully decided in the eyes of Hashem.

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