I've been following the situation in Israel this week, and I've got a question for you. I've heard Israel's operation called both "Pillar of Cloud" and "Pillar of Defense." Which one is it? And what is the significance of those terms?
This name takes us back to the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. In their journeys through the desert, the Jewish people were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This pillar played a very important defensive role just a few days after the Exodus. Fleeing Egypt, the Jews found themselves on the shore of the Reed Sea with the Egyptian army closing in fast on their tail. Just then:
The angel of G‑d, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them,coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.
Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, cites the tradition that the cloud not only separated between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp, it also intercepted the arrows and catapult stones of the Egyptians.
In order to function as a viable separation, it must have significantly changed shapes, morphing from a pillar into an all-encompassing mass that enveloped the People of Israel, shielding and defending them on multiple sides.
It now makes sense why the name of the operation, "Amud Anan" in Hebrew, can be translated as both "Pillar of Cloud" and "Pillar of Defense."
It is our prayer that just as the cloud protected our ancestors, may G‑d continue to shelter us all under His canopy of peace.