Parshat Beshalach begins by describing the route taken by Klal Yisrael as they traveled to Eretz Yisrael as per the order of Hashem. Traveling through the dangerous desert, protection and guidance were necessary for the nation, and Hashem provided it in the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night to illuminate the journey. Why were specifically fire and clouds chosen? Furthermore, what is the connection between the seemingly unrelated elements?
To understand why clouds and fire were chosen, one must first look at the characteristics of those two items. Interestingly, both clouds and fire do not move on their own; both are pushed by the wind. Yet, despite this seeming lack of control over their fate, clouds and fire are always present, and play prominent roles in the functioning of nature. By choosing these two natural forces, Hashem is conveying a powerful message to His people. During times of duress, such as the endless persecution the Jewish people have faced, it may seem as though Am Yisrael is being “dragged through the mud” against their will, and can not dictate the ebb and flow of life. However, God will stay with Bnei Yisrael, through thick and thin, light and dark, and He will raise His nation to the highest levels once again, proving to the entire world that the Jews will never be eradicated, much like the clouds and fire are really controlled by the wind.
Additionally, clouds and fire are the foundation of much of technology. Throughout every generation, specifically before electricity was invented, most of the world relied heavily upon the clouds for their source of water in the form of rain. When rain comes consistently, agriculture booms, drinkable water is in high supply, along with many other benefits, and, conversely, when rain does not fall, many are plagued with a difficult year economically. Even more notable is the importance of fire, which allows for cooking, heating, and any other form of energy to power one’s everyday life. By utilizing fire and clouds as the manifestation of His presence, Hashem teaches Bnei Yisrael that, although they cannot see Him, their advancements and well-being are a direct result of Hashem’s unwavering kindnesses.
If such fundamentals as water and fire come from Hashem, then certainly everything else also comes from Hashem. We must recognize that anything and everything we have is a direct result of Hashem’s benevolence. Hashem specifically gave Bnei Yisrael this message at the outset of their existence as a free nation so they would avoid the pernicious pitfalls of arrogance and forgetting Hashem.