Why did God appear at that moment?
The parshah ends by telling us, “When Moses had finished the work (hamelachah), the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and God’s Presence filled the Tabernacle.’ (Exodus 40:33b-34) What is it about this particular moment that caused God to become present in a material way?
Let’s go back to the beginning of our quote, at just the moment the cloud appeared: “…When Moses had finished the work [on the tabernacle].” (Exodus 40:33) The word used here for work is melachah which is the same word used for God’s work of Creation (Genesis 2:2). Melachah, a type of work that has a strong element of creativity within it, is also the type of work that we are not allowed to do on Shabbat.
Once the Tabernacle was completed, it was time to begin the journey (masa) to the Promised Land. Rashi, the 12th century commentator, notes that the term masa is mentioned twice. The first time (40:36), the cloud lifts and the Israelites set out on their masa/journey. The second time (40:38), the cloud rested in the Tabernacle as they encamped. According to Rashi, “Because they always set out again from the place of encampment on a new journey therefore all the different stages of their journeys (including the places where they encamped) are called masa’ot/journeys.”
At the beginning of Genesis, God created the universe and the Divine presence is felt throughout the world. At the end of Exodus, Moses completes the Tabernacle as a home for God, almost as an in-law apartment, a place for the imminence of God’s presence to dwell. Even though the Israelites had experienced miracles, they still required a constant material reminder of God’s presence.
The Akeidat Yitzchak, a 15th century commentary, writes that “… the universe could be shown to have been a successful creation only if it were able to function on its own, without constant directives from its Creator.”
While we no longer require constant directives from God, we still require signs that God’s presence is among us. It is much more difficult in modern times to recognize the miracles wrought daily unless we train ourselves to do so. To this end we must remember that each of us is a mishkan, a tabernacle. Each of us not only contains a bit of godliness but are also required and able to manifest this godliness in everything that we do.
From the melachah of Creation to the melachah of the Tabernacle to our continued melachah of forming holy communities and bringing godliness into the world – this is our task, this is our purpose.
Table Talk Questions:
- Where do you find God’s presence in your daily life? In the world?
- What meaning does it mean to you the word journey is not only the going from point A to point B, but also all the stages along the way?
First published in the Washington Jewish Week, March 7, 2019