Questioning faith in the parsha
March 5, 2011 / 29 Adar I, 5771
Modern author: Chaim Potak
KOSHI: HOW does Israel’s journeying inform its sense of covenant?…HOW does the journey make us WHO we are?
v.34 The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.
RAMBAN… The cloud would cover it on every side until it was totally hidden within it…Thus “the Presence of the Lord” filled the Mishkan—the interior space being totally filled with The Presence, which dwelt inside the cloud inside the Tabernacle, just as when “Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.” [Ex 20:18]
SARNA… The function of the Tabernacle was to create a portable Sinai…As the people move away from the mountain of revelation, they need a visible, tangible symbol of God’s ever-abiding Presence in their midst.
v.35 Moses could not enter the tent of Meeting, because the cloud settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle
RASHI… Yet in Numbers 7:89 it says “Moses went into the Tent of Meeting…” In accordance with the 13th exegetical principle of R’ Ishmael, a third text comes along to adjudicate: “because the cloud had settled on it.” I deduce then that when the cloud settled, he could not enter; but when the cloud departed, he could…
IBN EZRA… “Moses could not enter…” Not at that moment, not until “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…” [Lev 1:1] But once God called to him, Moses would speak with Him face to face in the very place where, later, the High Priest dared only enter once a year. For Moses was at home there.
I am compelled to conclude this because Moses put the tablets in the Ark and then placed the cover with the two cherubs on it, and that was where God’s Presence continually rested. So when the Tabernacle was dismantled in order to move, how did Aaron and his sons approach the Ark? I say that Moses would immediately cover the Ark with a screen so that Aaron and his sons would not see it, taking it apart and packing up its parts while looking the other way…
ABRAVANEL… The “Presence of the Lord” in the Bible refers to two different things: to the light that the Israelites could see inside the cloud, and, more correctly, to the higher, spiritual Presence that our Sages call the Shechinah.
v.36-37 When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on their various journeys, but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until it did
HERTZ… The Book of Exodus thus closes with the fulfillment of the promise…with God’s protecting and sanctifying Presence in the midst of the people to lead them to their appointed destination. The Tabernacle, after it accompanied the Israelites on their wilderness wanderings, was most probably first set up in the Holy Land at Gilgal[Josh 4:19] Before the death of Joshua, it was the erected at Shiloh[Josh 18:1], where it remained as the national sanctuary throughout the period of the Judges[I Sam 4:3]. But its external construction was somewhat changed at this time, and doors seem to have taken the place of the entrance curtain[I Sam 3:15]. After the time of Eli, it was removed to Nob in the region of Benjamin, not far from Jerusalem[I Sam 21:1-9]. Thence, in the time of King David, it was taken and set up in Gibeon[I Kings 3:4], after which it was brought from Gibeon to Jerusalem by Solomon[I Kings 8:4]. When the Temple of Solomon was built, the Tabernacle of the Wilderness had performed its function—protecting the Ark of the Covenant during all the migrations of Israel.
v.38 For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in view of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys.
RASHI… On each journey they took, the cloud would settle at the spot they were to encamp. The word Massa means not alone journey but the place where one stays along the journey—in stages, since our journeys, from one campsite to another, are each called a “stage.”
RISKIN… The lack of clarity expressed by a cloud and the inability to gaze directly into the fire express one of the deepest truths of the Jewish message: religion is not so much paradise as it is a paradox. Egypt, with its omnipresent waters of the Nile and its unchanging social order of masters and slaves, represents certainty. The desert, on the other hand, represents the unknown. God desires us to have the courage to walk into the abstruse haze, to scale the heights of the unknown, to take the risk of journeying—even without knowing just where we are going…