Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

(On rhe double Portion of VaYakhel and Pekudei Exodus 35:1–40:38)

What is the meaning of the Clouds of Glory on the Tent of Meeting?

Experiencing Hashem in our lives is an awesomely fulfilling experience and yet it can be very fleeting.

We know that when the people of Israel sinned with the golden calf, the Clouds of Glory left the people and left them vulnerable and feeling orphaned.

When did those Clouds return?

Hashem gave Moshe the second tablets to bring down on Yom Kippur and on the following day Moshe gathered the people and told them to begin working on the building of the Mishkan. They spent three days in preparation and on the fifth day after Yom Kippur, the fifteenth day of Tishrei which is the first day of Sukkot - they began to build the mishkan.

According to the Gaon of Vilna, since it was on that day that the Clouds of Glory descended on the Tabernacle and thereby returned to the people of Israel , it is that return that we actually celebrate as we sit in the sukkah.

What then , do these Clouds represent?

A spark of understanding is revealed when Moshe reminds the people of their experience at Mount Sinai.

“And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness (Choshech) a cloud (Anan) , and mist (Arafel) (Deuteronomy 4:11) .

We begin to understand that these three were not mere descriptions of a physical fact.

He was describing three spiritual realities, three levels of engagement with G-d. The Mechilta explains that after Moshe received the Torah and he descended from the top of Mount Sinai, he had to depart three heavenly "areas," or experiences, referred to as "Choshech," "Anan" and "Arafel" ("darkness," "cloud" and "mist"). The Anan or the Divine cloud, then, represents one of those higher perceived aspects of G-d's Presence.

It is one of those three spiritual realities.

The “Glory of G-d (Kavod Hashem) ” in the common parlance of the world is usually seen as being synonymous with the concept of the Shechina - Presence of G-d . Yet that cannot be the case

Ezekiel describes the Glory of G-d leaving the Temple Mount when the people of Israel go into exile. "..the cherubim lift up their wings, and the wheels were beside them; and the Glory of the G-d of Israel was over them above. And the Glory of Hashem went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city."(11:22-23) .

To translate the word Kavod (Glory) as the ”Presence of G-d” becomes problematic , as we are assured that G-d's Presence is never to leave the Temple Mount. "...whereof Hashem had said, In Jerusalem shall My name be for ever. (II Chronicles 33:4). Yet we see that the Glory of Hashem left along with the exile of the people.

Therefore to understand Kavod Hashem (the Glory of G-d) is to comprehend that this experience or spiritual reality necessitates a vessel that declares that Kavod or Glory. Hashem’s presence never leaves but the experience of being connected necessitates the people who have the willing heart to be the vessel.

Yet with the exile of His people, His Glory left as well.

Glory then, is best defined as the perceived Presence of G-d that necessitates people to declare His Glory or Kavod. That is to say Kavod or Glory necessitates a people who can become a worthy and active vessel.

It is that sense or experience that was lost after the sin of the calf .

It is that same Presence that was returned when they began to build the Tabernacle after Moshe came down with the Second Tablets on Yom Kippur.

Now we had a people that had repented and were ready to be a vessel for Hashem’s Presence rather than their ego and fears.

So if in fact the people were pardoned by Hashem on that first Yom Kippur ,why did the clouds not return on that day? Why did it wait until five days later? Therein lays an important truth regarding repentance. It is undeniably true that the people wholeheartedly repented and it is also a fact that G-d forgave them.

Yet that was not enough.

They needed to act out their tshuva ( the process of Return and Repentance) . They needed to begin the process of rebuilding their spiritual souls by doing. They needed to begin the building of a Tabernacle for Hashem.

“Make for me a Mikdash and I will dwell within you.”

This helps explain one last question in our Parsha

We read towards the end of the Parsha of VaYakhel ," It came to pass ( VaYehi) in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was set up. "

The ancient tradition has informed us that whenever the Torah uses the word vayehi ("and it came to pass"), it is heralding a time of woe and concern. Similar to the first words in the Book of Esther.

"Now it came to pass (VaYehi) in the days of Ahashverush.." (Esther1;1)

What woe and concern could there be with the completion of the Mishkan. The Admor MiChabad offers an explanation based on the Midrash Tanchuma.

When one is involved in a work and an activity of great meaning and purpose one is strengthened not to fall or flounder. Yet when that activity is finished the dangers begin. In the words of the Midrash; So, too, said G-d: "As long as my children were occupied with the Mishkan, they did not grumble against Me. Now they will again begin to provoke Me."

Therefore it says vayehi, "woe is it."

What then is the remedy for that “woe and distress”? That is the great power of “doing”. Therein lays the redemptive power of mitzvoth. In order to avoid that pitfall and danger, we must focus on a life that is filled with “doing for Hashem”.

We in our lives as individuals will have those moments of sublime connection, those experiences with the "Clouds of Glory”. Yet if that experience does not translate into a commitment of change in our lives. A commitment that never really ends but keeps materializing and growing, we may find ourselves outside of the protective hug of those Clouds.

As that is true in our individual lives , it is just as true in our communal lives as people in the Land of Promise. Our lives must be filled with the task rebuilding Hashem's land in spite of those that come to hinder that building. We must focus on living out our truth with a passion that will stymie those that come against the plan of destiny and will warm the hearts of those too frightened to seize the opportunity.

Only then will Hashem’s returning Glory in His land will be felt by all of mankind speedily in our days.

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Alter Mordechai ben Freda