Sefer Shemot concludes: “And he (Moshe) erected the Chatzer (Courtyard) around the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Mizbeach (Altar), and he installed the Masach (Screen) as the gate of the Chatzer; and Moshe completed the work. And the cloud covered the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), and the glory of God filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was unable to go into the Ohel Moed, for the cloud rested upon it and the glory of God filled the Mishkan. And when the cloud arose from atop the Mishkan, the Children of Israel would travel in all their journeys. And if cloud did not arise, they would not travel until the day that it arose. For the cloud of God was upon the Mishkan by day, and fire would be upon it by night, before the eyes of the entire House of Israe) in all of their travels.” (40:33-38)
Rashi (on v. 35), invoking the Midrash, notes that the Torah would later appear to contradict the above passage that “Moshe was unable to go into the Ohel Moed”, as we read that Moshe indeed entered the Ohel Moed, where God would spoke with him. (V. Bamidbar/Numbers 7:89.) The Midrash cited by Rashi explains that there is no contradiction, for the Torah in the above passage speaks of Moshe not being able to enter the Ohel Moed when “the cloud rested upon it” – implying that when the cloud was not present, Moshe would enter and God would speak with him there.
The question remains: Since Moshe was only restricted from entering the Ohel Moed when the cloud of God was present, but he otherwise could enter for Divine communication, why does the Torah here basically omit this information? Would it not have been preferable and clearer for the Torah to record at this point that Moshe could enter the Ohel Moed and hear the voice of God when the cloud arose therefrom? Why present this information here in an indirect rather than in a direct manner?
The bedrock concept of the Mishkan and of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) being manifest in our midst mandates total submission and awe. When God’s Presence is revealed, we immediately yield to God’s authority and mastery and we are struck by the penetrating and robust sensation of holiness that prevails. Only after submitting and yielding to God’s authority and mastery, acutely cognizant of the environment of intense sanctity that predominates, may we be permitted to approach.
Thus do we find with the account of the S’neh, the Burning Bush, where Moshe initially encountered God’s Presence (Shemot 3:1-4:17), that Moshe was first instructed to maintain his distance and remove his shoes due to the sanctity of the site and the event. So too at Har Sinai, when the Shechinah descended and the Children of Israel gathered for the Aseret Ha-Dibrot (Ten Commandments), were the people repeatedly adjured in advance regarding personal conduct and the restriction of ascending the mount; only after these warnings and internalizing the extreme significance and awe engendered by this indescribably powerful occasion were our ancestors prepared to stand at Sinai and receive direct communication from God.
Therefore, when describing the completion of the Mishkan by Moshe, does the Torah not immediately discuss his entry to the Ohel Moed. The message conveyed at this point is one of the overwhelming manifestation of the Shechinah, with an acute sense of sanctity and solemnity, that needs to be appreciated and internalized. Restriction, awe and submission to the Divine are the only concepts now. Entry into the locus of Hashra'at Ha-Shechinah (the immanent resting of God's Presence in our midst) is not to be focused upon at this juncture, for it would detract from the powerful sensation of daunting reverence and surrender to the exclusive omnipotence of God that is engendered by His Presence. Discussion of Moshe’s entry to the Ohel Moed could not occur until later.
This is why the Torah here conceals Moshe's entry to the Ohel Moed.
So too is this the mandate for all generations when setting foot in mekomot kedoshim, holy spaces. When we enter, are we immediately comfortable and perhaps jovial, feeling as if we are in our living rooms, or are we struck by a sense of awe, reverence and submission?
Let us learn and embody the attitude and approach to kedushah (holiness) that lie in the deep recesses of the conclusion of Sefer Shemot and its sensational account of the Mishkan.
Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle of the Coalition for Jewish Values, serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine and a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website. He is a member of the RCA and NY Bar, and an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan