Experiencing God In Dark And Light

We should strive to feel the presence of God in our lives, just as the presence of God filled the Tabernacle.

Commentary on Parashat Pekudei, Exodus 38:21 - 40:38


  • A statistical summary of the materials used for the Tabernacle and an account of producing the priestly vestments are recorded. Moses blesses the Israelites for the work they did. (38:21-39:42)
  • Upon God’s instruction, Moses sets up the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priests are anointed and consecrated. (40:1-33)
  • A description is given of a cloud that covers the Mishkan by day and a fire that burns by night, indicating God’s Presence therein. (40:33-38)

Focal Point

When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. 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 such time as it did lift. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of Adonai rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys (Exodus 40:33-38).

Your Guide

How do you think the Israelites felt seeing the Divine Presence fill the Tabernacle?

Some translations use the word “Glory” or “Majesty” instead of “Presence” for the word kavod. Does this alternative translation change the way you view the passage?

Why couldn’t Moses enter the Tent of Meeting? What was really preventing him from entering?

What is the significance of the Presence appearing as a cloud and fire? When have we seen these symbols before in the Book of Exodus?

Why did God have to give the Israelites a sign of when to stay encamped and when to set out on their journey?

By the Way…

“The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle.” The function of the Tabernacle was to create a portable Sinai, a means by which a continued avenue of communication with God could be maintained. As the people move away from the mount of revelation, they need a visible, tangible symbol of God’s ever-abiding Presence in their midst. It is not surprising, then, that the same phenomenon as occurred at Sinai, related in 24:15-17, now repeats itself. It will recur at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, as is narrated in I Kings 8:10-11. The cloud is the manifest token of the immediacy of the Divine Presence (Nahum Sarna on Exodus 40:34 in JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, p. 237).

“And the glory of Adonai filled the Tabernacle.…” The entire Sanctuary was filled with Israel’s love and the longing for God, because the Sanctuary and its utensils had come from the people’s donations and their strong desire to express their love of God. As a result, the Shechinah (divine presence) rested upon them, filling every single possible place. That is what is meant by “the glory of Adonai filled the Sanctuary” (R. Yaakov Aryeh of Radzimin on Exodus 40:34 in Torah Gems).

“Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting….” It is unclear whether entry is literally hindered, or is impermissible, or that he simply dared not enter (Nahum Sarna on Exodus 40:35 in JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, p.237).

“Moses was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting” — even to the door, because the cloud covered it, and he was not permitted to come into the cloud. Moreover, “the Glory of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle,” so how could he enter it? The reason for this was so that Moses should not go in without permission, but instead God would call him and then he was to come into the midst of the cloud, just as God had done at Mount Sinai (Ramban).

At this point, there are two embodiments of holiness in the Israelite camp: the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Mo-eid) and the Tabernacle (Mishkan). We can think of them as representing a theology of encounter and a theology of presence. There are moments (a wedding, the birth of a child, an escape from danger) when God erupts into our lives with a special intensity that transforms us but that is too intense to be lived constantly. Then there are times when God is a constant presence in our lives (marriage, parenthood, years of good health) in an equally real but less intense manner. The challenge is to recognize God’s constant presence in our lives without its becoming so ordinary that we take it for granted (Benno Jacob on Exodus 40:35 in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, The Jewish Publication Society, 1999, pp. 571-2).

“For the cloud of Adonai was upon the Sanctuary by day, and fire was on it by night….” This is a lesson for every person. Each person is considered to be like a sanctuary in his own right, and when good fortune shines on him, he should always be aware of the cloud that can come and darken his life. On the other hand, when things are bad and everything is dark around him, he should not despair, because the sun will yet shine for him (Yalkut Eliezer on Exodus 40:38 in Torah Gems).

Your Guide

Sarna suggests that the cloud allowed the Israelites to constantly feel or notice God’s Presence. Is there any symbol or ritual that makes us feel that way today?

A brit is that special covenant between God and the Jewish people. Is R. Yaakov Aryeh of Radzimin suggesting that the donations to the Tabernacle and the subsequent Presence of God reflect the renewing of the b’rit, or is he proposing that this a new beginning?

Sarna and the Ramban offer various interpretations as to why Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting. What do you think is the reason and why?

In the Etz Hayim commentary the two holy places in the Israelite camp are likened to the two types of God encounters we experience in our lives: the intense and the ever-present. Why did the Israelites need these two different encounters? Do we, as modern Jews, experience the “theology of encounter” and the “theology of presence?”

The Yalkut Eliezer mentions dark times and good times in our lives. Is this a good way to live our lives?

D’var Torah

Our connection with God often seems elusive. Now several generations have lived through amazing scientific discoveries that allow us to understand so much of our world. Yet, we are not yet able to prove scientifically that God exists.

Our ancestors were given a gift: The Israelites were able to experience God’s real and awesome might. We do not always see the grand miracles they did. Yet if we choose to see the daily miracles around us and if we work to create a relationship with the Divine, we can also have a special connection with God.

Our definition of miracle and God-encounter needs to change from that which the Israelites experienced. Too often we, adolescents and adults alike, are so caught up in needing proof that we do not stop to appreciate what God has provided for us.

Perhaps it is time to change the prism we use to perceive God. Of course, like Moses, there will be times when we cannot approach God, either due to obstacles within ourselves or the obstacles God places before us. However, as stated in the Yalkut Eliezer, we need to remember God’s Presence both in good times and when life seems most difficult.

At any moment, our lives can take a turn, for better or for worse. Our job is to experience and appreciate God in our lives on a daily basis and when we have an intense moment with the Divine.

It is interesting that when we started the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were enslaved. God shows us that intense experience of getting the Israelites out of Egypt. Now, at the end of Exodus, God’s Presence appears to be a constant for the Israelites. May we all learn to appreciate the presence of God in our lives. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik. (Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.)

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