Anatomy of a Midrash that Infiltrates the Law
"The messenger of God, that was going before the camp of Israel, moved on and went behind them. The column of cloud moved ahead of them and stood behind them, coming between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. Here were the cloud and the darkness, and (there) it lit up the night; the--one to the other (ZEH EL ZEH)--did not come near throughout the night." (Exodus 14:19-20)
"Seraphs stood in attendance on Him... And they would call out--one to the other (ZEH EL ZEH)-- Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the world is filled with His glory," (Isaiah 6:3)
Your Tanach Navigator
1. The only two times the phrase 'zeh el zeh' appears in all of Tanach are these two places. The verse in Shemot describes the locations of the Egyptian camp and the camp of Israel prior to Israel's crossing of the Red Sea. The verse in Isaiah describes a vision where Isaiah witnessed the angels declaring God's glory.
2. Where does a portion of the verse in Isaiah appear in our communal prayers?
3. To the midrashic ear it is assumed that these two verses have a deep connection because the phrase 'zeh el zeh' only appears twice in the whole Tanach. What would that connection be? What does the angels' praise have to do with the splitting of the sea?
Here is the Talmud's answer.
Megilla 10B "And Rabbi Yochanan said: What is the meaning of the verse, 'the one to the other did not come near throughout the night?' The ministering angels wanted to sing their praises, but the Holy One said, 'The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and you are singing praises?'"
Your Talmud Navigator
1. How does the Talmud understand the connection between the two verses?
2. How did you understand the connection?
It is clear from the verse in Isaiah that the prophet was witnessing a routine heavenly prayer service where the heavenly court praises the Holy One. We imitate the angels when we repeat the verse "Holy, Holy, Holy, (Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh)" in our daily prayers. The verse intimates that in this instance the Holy One is in mourning, and the angels singing praises is inappropriate, and maybe even insulting.
The original reason was stated in another section of the Talmud which distinguishes between the Temple sacrifices of Succot and Pesach. On Succot each day the sacrifices were different, so the uniqueness of each day's service requires a full recitation of Hallel even if the person were praying alone.
The last days of Pesach, however, had the same Temple service, so only a partial recitation of Hallel was required if a person was praying alone, but when the community was praying together a full Hallel should be recited. For hundreds of years the practice has been for communities and individuals to say only a partial Hallel on the intermediate and last days of Passover. Why?
Later commentaries invoke God's displeasure with the angels as the reason for saying only a partial Hallel on the last days of Pesach. In deference to the destruction of the Egyptians, God's corrupted creation, we mute our praises. This later explanation became the popular reason in the halachic literature for why a Yom Tov (holiday), such as the last days of Pesach, do not warrant a full Hallel.
It is interesting to note that this midrash becomes immortalized as the reason for a liturgical detour and that it emanates from the same Parsha where God promises to obliterate the memory of Amalek, the archetypal nemesis of the Jewish people.
It is clear that God avenges wrongdoing, but it is no cause for praise or celebration.