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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Pekudei
Contributed 2008 by Asher ben Shimon
Back to Torah Portions Archive 



Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Lamed Khet (38)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Chav Alef (21)

Concluding Perek:


Concluding Pasuk:

Lamed Chet (38)

The Cloud Over the Mishkan

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In this week's Torah portion Pekudei, we first read about Moshe making an accounting of the gold, silver and copper donated by the people for the making of the Mishkan. Then we read about how Betzalel and his helpers make the priestly garments according to the specifications communicated to Moshe in the Parshah of Tetzaveh. Then the Mishkan is completed and all its components are brought to Moshe, who erects it and anoints it with the holy Anointing Oil, and initiates Aharon and his four sons into the priesthood. At the end of the Parsha the Torah tells us about a cloud that appears over the Mishkan, signifying the Divine Presence that has come to dwell within it.

"And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys. But if the cloud did not rise up, they did not set out until the day that it rose."

For those not familiar with Jewish history, let me explain. The Jewish nation spent 40 years living and traveling through the desert. During those 40 years they made 42 stops. When Hashem wanted to notify his people that the time had come to move on, the clouds would move. The roughly three million people that made up the Jewish nation in those days would then be notified by special trumpets. To read about this at length, open your chumash to the portion of Beha'alotecha.

The obvious question everyone asks is: why, if this is discussed in Beha'alotecha, is it being mentioned here in two lines? Although it has to do with the cloud that is mentioned here for the first time, it doesn't seem to be in context with the previous verses. The Torah was telling us that the Divine presence rested in the Mishkan in the form of a cloud. Why do we have to know that this cloud was also used as an indicator that it was time for another journey?

Net week's portion starts with the words: "And Hashem called Moshe". Our sages explain that this comes in continuation to what we finish reading this week. "Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan." This makes it even more difficult to understand why we are being told about the side purpose of the clouds. Until now we were only wondering why the two sentences were added. Based on what we said now however, it comes out that it is actually disrupting the story. Instead of it saying "Moshe couldn't enter because of the cloud therefore he needed to be called", now it says something like this: "Moshe couldn't enter. Oh btw, these clouds had another purpose. Moshe was being called."

This week we finish reading the entire book of Shemot. It is interesting that both the first as well as the last portion are connected to numbers. The first Parsha starts with "And these are the names" and enumerates the names of all Yakov's descendants who came with him to Egypt. Rashi adds: Although G-d counted them in their lifetime by their names, He counted them again after their death, to let us know how precious they are

Pekudei starts with the words "These are the numbers of the Mishkan".

The English name for the book of Shemot is not Numbers (which is the book of Bamidbar a.k.a. known as chumash hapekudim) but Exodus. That is because the main story line of the book is about the exodus from slavery to freedom. Leaving the limitations and boundaries of Egypt. When we think about it for a second, it might occur that numbers are in way a contradiction to the idea of freedom. By counting we emphasize the limitations of each counted object. Instead of "a box of apples" we point out that each apple is a separate entity. Freedom on the other hand is about braking through all borders and limitations. Why is it then that the book of 'freedom' starts and ends with numbers; the opposite of freedom.

When we take a closer look at the portions of Shemot and Pekudei we'll find a similar contradiction. The name of the first Parsha is, just as the whole book, Shemot. As we mentioned earlier, it starts by giving us a list of names. As early as the seventh (!) verse we hear about the miraculous expansion of the Jewish people in Egypt. "The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them. -They bore six children at each birth (Rashi) We start with counting and continue with unlimited expansion.

The same thing happens in Pekudei. It starts with giving a detailed account of all the different parts of the Mishkan and related items, but at the end we read about Hashem's presence that rested in it that was so intense that even Moshe, the most elevated of men, wasn't able to enter. Finite numbers and infinite holiness.

A similar contradiction we find in connection with the numbers of the Jewish people in the book of Hoshe'a. The prophet talks there about :"The numbers (limitation) of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured or counted. (infinity)"

All the above suggests that true freedom and expansion must somehow always be connected to limitations and boundaries.

The Midrash tells us that the 'reason' why the world was created is because "Hashem desired to have a dwelling down below". This means that on one hand the dwelling has to be for Hashem who stands above all and any limitations, and on the other hand this dwelling must be in this small finite world. In other words, we have two elements. Hashem and the world.

If there is any place in this world where we can say Hashem really dwells, it is within ourselves, since every Jew contains within him a spark of G-d.

Nevertheless the soul must be in this world in order to show that it is a dwelling for Hashem. If a Jew can show that the world is not a contradiction to his Jewishness, it shows that he has a connection to something higher that is not subject to the limitations of the world.

Now let's find this back in the books of the Torah. The first book Bereishit ( B =2 reishit = the Torah and the Jewish people who are both called by this name) speaks about the creation of the world. Although the purpose of this creation is hinted in the first word, we do not actually read about these two things yet. In the book of Shemot we learn how the purpose of creation is starting to be revealed We read about how the Jewish nation is born when leaving Egypt and how they receive the Torah which is the tool needed to achieve the goal.

Here the Torah has to inform us about the two elements. It starts with a counting of the Jewish souls. Hashem counted them himself (as opposed to later countings by Moshe) "to let us know how precious they are to Him". Since this is the beginning of the book that teaches us how the purpose of the world is being reached, it is clear that it is also the main part of it. -The main dwelling is within the Jewish soul.

HOW to accomplish this we find at the END of the book. It gives an account of all the physical items used to make the Mishkan. The second element; the world. This comes at the end because it is of lesser importance. It only BRINGS OUT how the souls are connected with Hashem.

The Torah takes us one step further though. Since our G-dly essence comes only to expression when we show that the world is not a contradiction to this, it is understood that living in a holy way without a revealed G-dly presence brings out this point much more then when living near the Mishkan with all the miracles that transpired there on a daily basis.

That is the meaning of the verse :"When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys" The cloud represented Hashem's presence. The main purpose is to transform the spiritual desert to holiness when there is no 'cloud' with us. When there is no revealed G-dly presence.

The next step in the journey we find in the next book, Vayikra, which is all about the sacrifices brought in the Mishkan. There is an essential difference between the Mishkan and sacrifices. The Mishkan, although made with physical material, was only a vessel to RECEIVE Hashem's presence coming from heaven down to earth. A sacrifice on the other hand is taking an unholy animal with unholy flower and water and TRANSFORMING it to something holy. Bringing earth up to heaven.

This comes as a continuation to the cloud NOT hovering over the Mishkan since it brings out the same point. The mundane -'cloudless' becomes holy.

The sacrifices took place in the Mishkan though. Although the focus in Vayikra is on the transformation of the mundane, it is a process taking place in the Mishkan WITH the cloud. Therefore it is only in the next book, Bamidbar, that we read at length about the journeys through the desert without the clouds presence. (IN the Mishkan)

"When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys"

Based on the above explanation that our purpose is being fulfilled mainly when we rise above the limitations of the world, this verse takes on a deeper meaning. Our 'journey' upwards to the next level is only then when the 'cloud rises up'. Although it may look that G- d's presence is missing, the truth is that we deal with a level of holiness which is ABOVE the level that is expressed in the cloud of the Mishkan. By the next 'stop' we take this level down into the Mishkan till we're ready to go for the next trip on an even higher level.

May we soon reach our final destination when Hashem's presence will be revealed to all mankind with the coming of Moshiach NOW!


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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