The Clouds

clouds at mountsinai
Moshe Kempinski

What does G-d being in a cloud signify?

We read of an astounding account in the Torah portion of Mishpatim

“And Moshe and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended, and they perceived the G-d of Israel,… and they perceived G-d, and they ate and drank. ( Exodus 24:9-11)”

In the midst of this incredible vision, they “ate and drank”!?!

Rashi states that these elders were later punished for their “arrogant heart”. Other understand the description as being metaphorical ( Malbim, the Zohar). While still others like the Ramban understands this as a lesson that G-d does not want us to separate from the physicality of this world. He wants us to elevate it.

Yet one thinks of Rashi’s approach when we read what soon follows;

“And Moshe went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. And the glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moshe on the seventh day from within the cloud.”( ibid 24:15-16)

After such a dramatic and clear perception and experience of His glory , Hashem returns into the covering of the cloud.

What does this cloud represent?

On the one hand the cloud represented Hashem’s guidance and presence.
” And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. “ ( Exodus 40:36-38)

On the other hand, it also served as a barrier or an obstacle.”
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the tabernacle And Moshe was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Hashem filled the tabernacle.”( Exodus ;34-35)

We see that concept again in a verse of Eicha “You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through” (Lamentations 3:44).

So which is it that best defines the “cloud”, spiritual embrace or separation?

The revelation at Mount Sinai was so incredible that it frightened the people.
“And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.”(Exodus 20:15)

In the book of Deuteronomy we hear their fears;
“Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our G-d any more, then we shall die….. You go near, and hear all that Hashem our G-d may say; and you shall speak unto us all that Hashem our G-d may speak unto you; and we will hear it and do it.’ ” (Deuteronomy 5:21-23)

It is then that Hashem tells Moshe;

“And Hashem heard the voice of your words, when ye spoke unto me; and Hashem said unto me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee; they have well said all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!”( ibid 24-25)

We are living in a world wherein certain religions espouse easy solutions and simplified relationships. While it is true that that G-d is a loving Father, but He is also the reigning King.

“Love of G-d “without “fear of G-d” quickly becomes” love of self” .On the other hand, “fear of G-d” without “love of G-d” becomes simply “fear of punishment.”

Hashem is telling Moshe that a healthy relationship with the Divine involves a delicate balance of Awe and Love.It is all about the “cloud” that both embraces and separates. After the dramatic encounter with the vision of G-d, Moshe had to enter the clouds that covered that mount. For only within the delicately balanced relationship expressed by the clouds can Hashem be truly comprehended. This is soulfully expressed in the haunting words of singer Shuli Rand’s song Arafel;

“now is the time
to step into the misty cloud..
for there… for there
for (only) there G-d is found.”

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