5769 - #22
The essence of this question is actually posed differently in variant sources. T.B, Yoma 4b wonders why the presence of the cloud would be an impediment to Moshes entry for we are told, in Shemot 24:18, that Moshe entered the cloud at Har Sinai. The gemara concludes that God assisted Moshe in entering the cloud at Sinai, therefore he was able to enter it. Ramban, Shemot 40:34 extends this idea to the Ohel Moed. Moshe could not enter the Ohel on his own accord when the cloud was upon it but, when summoned by Hashem, he entered it with permission. The words of Ramban actually seem to imply that the issue is not ability but permission and propriety. When the cloud was upon the Ohel, Moshe felt that it was inappropriate for him to enter without permission; but with permission, and especially if demanded by God, he would enter.
Support for this contention of the Ramban can be found in a pronouncement of the Medrash Hagadol quoted in Torah Shelaima, Shemot 40:35, note 74. The medrash specifically states that, from the experience on Har Sinai, it was clear that Moshe Rabbeinu could walk within the cloud. The statement that Moshe was unable to enter actually is informing us that Moshe chose not to walk into where the cloud was as Moshe wished to show honour to God, choosing to enter the Ohel only after called to enter by God. For this Moshe was, in turn, honoured by God. This understanding may also explain the apparent paradox in the viewpoint of Rashi. Indeed Gods presence continuously filled the Mishkan. When the cloud was upon the Ohel, though, God did not call to Moshe to enter and so he did not. It was only at times that the cloud was not upon the Ohel that Hashem would call to Moshe and so he would enter. It was not the cloud that barred Moshes entry. Somehow, though, the presence of the cloud did nonetheless preclude Moshe from entering the Ohel. Moshe would not enter without first being summoned and the presence of the cloud seemed to be somehow connected with Moshe not being summoned by God.
Malbim, Shemot 40:34, in addressing this very issue, seems to develop an understanding of the cloud that appears to be at odds with our first perceptions. The simple reading of the verse implies that it was the cloud that represented the glory of God and, in whose presence, Moshe was barred from entering. Malbim contends that the clouds purpose was actually to cover His glory; through the cloud, Gods glory was to be somewhat hidden. It was when the cloud was removed that the full glory would radiate, which was indicated by the fire. The cloud, thus, was not the representation of His glory nor was it that which barred Moshe from entering. Moshe was, simply, not summoned by God to enter when the cloud filled the Mishkan for it was, rather, a time when Gods glory was, actually, to be hidden. It was specifically when the cloud was removed and Gods glory would be more revealed that God would wish to communicate with Moshe and would call upon Moshe to enter.2 The verse, though, still does state specifically that Moshe could not enter because of the cloud. It may be that the verse is actually informing us that Moshe understood that it was not respectful for him to enter when the cloud was upon the Ohel for Gods glory was covered at this time.
Something of a paradox still remains. When it is easier to approach God because the fullness of His glory is somewhat covered, it may also be a time when it is actually disrespectful to approach Him. When it is a time, though, when the glory of God is more apparent and God may actually be calling to us, it may be more difficult to be in His presence. When it is easier, it may be inappropriate; when it is appropriate, it may be most difficult. This is, in fact, the challenge in relating to God. If we fully understood the very idea of what it means to relate to God, we would be overtaken by the awesome challenge that it represents. When we can fathom a connection to Him, there is a great possibility that we will be disrespectful in any approach to Him. When we have a proper perception of Him, the perception that we can even approach him seems beyond us.3 The only answer may be in precisely what the Torah presents: the teaching of the dialectic.
The cloud must at times hide the glory of God yet at
times it must not. Only the kohanim may do the
service in the
Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 The exact distinction between the Mishkan and the Ohel Moed, both in actuality and in the specific usage of each term, is a matter discussed by the commentators but beyond the scope of this Insight. For an example, see Haemek Davar, Shemot 40:34.
2 It was then, also, that Moshe needed the assistance from God to stand in His presence.
3 See, further, Ramban, Comments to the Rambams Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 5 where he states that the verses that seem to imply a command to pray actually are presenting a permission to pray. How can we otherwise assume that we can approach the Creator of all, the King of Kings, with our petty requests?
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