Sunday, March 06, 2011

parting the clouds

We read at the end of Pekudei that Moshe found himself unable to enter the completed Mishkan because of the cloud, representing the Shechina, which enveloped the tent (40:35). The Ohr haChaim points out that this seems to contradict the close of parshas Mishpatim where we read, "Vayavo Moshe b'toch he'anan," Moshe had no problem entering into the cloud which enveloped Har Sinai. Why the difference?

Ohr haChaim offers two answers: 1) Moshe had been called to enterinto the cloud that surrounded Sinai; he was not yet called to enter the cloud surrounding the Mishkan; 2) the cloud enveloped the Mishkan; the cloud hovered above Sinai, but did not block Moshe's access to the mountain.

I would like to suggest a third possibility which also relates to how we deal with the clouds that muddle our ability to move forward or to see things clearly. The difference between the two clouds is the context in which they occur. Sinai represents the experience of matan Torah; the Mishkan represents avodah, tefilah. Torah provides direction through the cloud -- chayav or patur, mutar or asur, the halacha provides a resolution, an answer, which allows us to move forward. Tefilah operates very differently. It's when we have given up the quest for answers or when we realize that despite our best efforts, we will fall short, that we turn to tefilah. Tefilah is not about finding a way through the cloud; it's about asking Hashem to just remove the cloud entirely because if we dare venture into it, we will be lost and be unable to find our own way out. We wait outside the cloud, not daring to enter, waiting expectently for a response.


  1. Anonymous9:02 PM

    a 4th possibility: Moses at the
    mishkan has a radiant face that,
    like night vision goggles, might
    enable him to see that which he

    {not sure whether this is a half-
    joke, a whole joke, or a bad joke,
    or maybe a half-joke not half-bad
    (which is to say an utterance one-
    quarter valuable, at the least,
    perhaps); some half-serious feed- back, at the most, requested}...

  2. Tamir5:17 PM

    Well, if we're suggesting answers to the difference between Shemot 24:18 and Shemot 40:35, I have one, too:

    In the former, although "the cloud"( he'Anan) enveloped the mountain, Kevod haShem was only at the top of Mount Sinai( 24:16-17), so Mosheh could go into the cloud, up the mountain( but not to the top).

    On the other hand, in the latter case, it says that Kevod haShem filled the entire Mishkan, and that's why he couldn't enter at that time. Only after Kevod haShem restricted itself to one part of the Mishkan( above the Kaporet, between the Keruvim, which is on top of Aron ha'Edut: Shemot 25:22, vaYiqra 16:2), Mosheh was able to go in ( baMidbar 7:89).

  3. Tamir6:14 PM

    Re-reading the post, it could be that what I said above matches Ohr haChaim's second answer, if we exchange "the cloud" for "Kevod haShem".

    Otherwise, it's a little hard accepting that "the cloud hovered above Sinai" when Shemot 24:15 says "vaYekhas he'Anan et haHar"( "and the cloud covered the [entire] mount"), but 24:16 says "vaYishkon Kevod haShem al Har Sinai"( "And Kevod haShem abode upon mount Sinai"), and Shemot 24:17 says "uMar'e Kevod haShem ... beRosh haHar"( "And the appearance of Kevod haShem was ... on the top of the mount").

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  5. Tamir6:31 PM

    Checking Or haCha'im on Shemot 40:35, it seems what I said was actually his second answer.

    Barukh sheKivanti !