The Ananei haKavod, the clouds of glory, conveyed a message. Their arrival and their departure clearly imparted a lesson and deep instruction. We read the following after the beginning of the building of the Mishkan:
And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of HaShem filled the Mishkan. . Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of HaShem filled the Mishkan. ( Exodus 40 :34-35 )
Why did that cloud fill the tent specifically at this time? What did it signify? What was it about this Anan of HaShem’ , Glory that caused Moshe to stand outside of the tent of Meeting.
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 they 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 will later remind 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. When we are ending the final amidah prayer we step back three steps.These three steps echoe the descent of Moshe from Mount Sinai. 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”). We too, as we take leave of God’s presence after the Amida prayer, move away in three steps. The Anan or the Divine cloud, then, represents that higher perceived aspect of G-d’s Presence. It is one of those three spiritual realities.
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. So why was Moshe left standing outside the Tent of Meeting? On that first day the clouds enveloped the whole mishkan .On that day the whole Mishkan became the vessel of HaShem’s tangible Presence. As a result Moshe could not enter unless invited . The same would be true of the Kohanim after King Solomon built the Temple:
“And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of HaShem, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of HaShem filled the house of HaShem (.”First Kings 8:10-11 ).
Yet this was temporary. The Rashbam explains that this cloud representing G-d’s Presence then moved to cover only the Ark, . It was only after that transfer that Moshe could enter into the Tent of Meeting and hear G-d’s “voice” emanating from the space between the Keruvim.
One then must ask the following question. If 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. 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
” 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 we will be reading shortly:
“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. It must be filled with 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.