Why did God appear at that moment?


This week’s Torah portion is Pekudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38.

To begin at the end of this week’s parshah: “When Moses had finished the work [hamelachah], the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and God’s presence filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:33-34).

What was it about this particular moment that caused God to become present in a material way?

Let’s go back to the beginning of the quote, at just the moment that the cloud appeared:
“When Moses had finished the work [on the tabernacle]…” The word used here for work is melachah, the same word used for God’s work of Creation in Genesis 2:2. Melachah, a type of work that has a strong element of creativity, 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 lifted 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, 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 was 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 commentator, 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 today 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 is 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.

Questions for discussion
Where do you find God’s presence in your life? In the world?
What do you think about the fact that word journey not only means going from point A to point B, but also all the stops along the way?

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the rabbi of the Olney Kehila and a community chaplain.

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