The Torah Portion Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1 –Ex. 24:18) seems to be all about laws and rulings (its very title, mishpatim, actually means “laws”). However, at the end of all these laws and rulings, we find an intriguing sentence: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.” God tells Moses that He would send an Angel before the people – and this seems to be a very special Angel, for God says: “My name is in Him!” Who was this Angel who went with Israel?
Later, in Exodus 33, we find a different promise. After Moses pleads with God, asking Him to go with the people of Israel, God says, “My face will go with you”. Face? What about the Angel whom God sends in our portion? Thus, we arrive at Malach Panav – this very special Angel of His Face, or of His Presence (as it’s sometimes rendered).
In full, this name occurs in only one place, in the book of Isaiah: In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence (Malach Panav) saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. However, there are several instances in the Hebrew Bible where we see this special Angel of God’s presence, who speaks in the name of God and delivers His message. This Angel speaks from the first person, as if he was God; he stands before the people in the form of a man, and after meeting him, people realize that they have seen God, yet their lives have been spared. We see him in Genesis 18 talking to Abraham, in Genesis 22 stopping Abraham on Mount Moriah, and in Genesis 32 wrestling with Jacob at Peniel; in the book of Joshua, he is the commander of the Lord’s army who commissions Joshua to fight the battles for the Land.; we see him talking to Gideon, and appearing before Samson’s parents, and also elsewhere. And we find him here in Exodus as well: The Angel of God’s face, or Presence, is going with Israel!
Historically, Rabbinic Judaism has given this Angel a Judeo-Greek name, “Metatron” מֵטַטְרוֹן (metatron), meaning “the one next to the throne” (compiled from two Greek words μετὰ (meta) and θρóνος (thronos). The Jewish sages explained: “This is [the angel] Metatron, whose name is like the name of his Master: The numerical value of מֵטַטְרוֹן  equals that of שַׁדַּי  “
Christian tradition, however, has mainly understood this Angel to be the pre-incarnate Jesus. We will discuss this more when we get to Torah Portion Ki Tissa – but here is a take-home message from this Portion: this amazing promise of His Presence was given to Israel, in the first place! The special Angel was sent with His people – and ever since, His Presence has been going with Israel! Do you realize what that actually means? All these centuries, in all the pain and suffering we went through – the pogroms, ghettos, concentration camps – all these horrible periods of complete loneliness and misery, when to everyone, including ourselves, we seemed to be utterly abandoned – in reality, we were not alone, the Lord has been walking with us! In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence (Malach Panav) saved them.
You Have Reached Your Destination!
Today, in the age of GPS and all the navigation apps, I’m sure we have all heard these words: YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION. We all know how it works: first, we set our destination into the navigation device or app, then it will offer us different roads, and then, after we choose the road, it will take us there by this road. It will bring us to our destination.
This is exactly the impression we get from this portion, Mishpatim, when we read the verse I just quoted. First, God sets our destination: “the place which I have prepared”; then He chooses the way He wants us to go: “Behold, I send an Angel before you”; and then, if we trust Him, we know that His navigation device will not fail to “bring us into the place which He has prepared”. We will reach our destination. But what is this destination, then?
Let us open one of the most famous pieces in the New Testament: the Sermon on the Mount. Here, in Matthew 5, we hear Jesus quoting the well-known verse from our portion: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” If we follow the Christian interpretation I just presented, it’s like seeing this Angel, who was sent before Israel in Exodus 23, arriving and going up the Mountain in Matthew 5 (exactly like Moses went up the Mountain in Mishpatim) and interpreting to the people those instructions that were given in the beginning: YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!
I want to be very clear: of course, I don’t think that Jesus replaces the Torah with his own teaching. We all know his words from the same chapter “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill”. We have to keep these words in mind when we read the next verse: the famous “Christian” verse about turning the other cheek: “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”. Could it really be the destination that God meant from the very beginning? Could it really be the interpretation and the fulfillment of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” ruling that we find in Mishpatim?
In order to answer this question, let us ask another question: is “turning the other cheek” originally a Jewish value? In the eyes of many people, the words of Jesus about “the other cheek” remain the best example of how much the New Testament teaching is different from that in the Old Testament. At first glance, it seems that this is indeed the case; Jesus seems to contradict the Torah by completely abolishing the principle of “measure for measure” from our Torah Portion. However, it is only at first glance. You might be surprised to learn that the very idea of “turning the other cheek” comes from the Hebrew Bible: in the book of Lamentations, we read, “Let him offer his cheek to the one who strikes him”. Based on Jesus’ own words – I did not come to destroy but to fulfill! – we can only suppose that this “turning the other cheek” commandment was indeed the fulfillment of what we find in Mishpatim – the understanding we had to get to. The Angel sent by God arrived to the place He prepared: YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!
 Isaiah 63:9
 Josh. 5:1-15
 Sanh. 38b
 Mat.5:38, Ex.21:24
 Lam. 3:30
The insights you read on these pages are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them here .