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"And God's Glory Filled the Mishkan"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein



Parashat PEKUDEI



“And God’s Glory Filled the Mishkan

Translated by Kaeren Fish


 And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and God’s glory filled the Mishkan. And Moshe could not come into the Tent of Meeting for the cloud rested upon it, and God’s glory filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34-35) 

In his Introduction to Sefer Shemot, Ramban explains the momentous significance of this moment:


And behold, the exile will not be over until the day when they return to their place and to the level of their ancestors. When they left Egypt, although they left the house of slavery they were still considered exiles, for they were in a land that was not their own, wandering about in the wilderness. And when they came to Mount Sinai and made the Mishkan, and the Holy One, blessed be He, once again brought His Presence to dwell in their midst, then they regained the level of their ancestors, who had God’s secret upon their tents, and they themselves were His chariot, and then they were considered redeemed. Therefore, this Sefer concludes with the completion of the subject of the Mishkan, and with God’s glory filling it constantly.


According to Ramban, even after the Exodus from Egypt, Am Yisrael were considered a nation in exile. Only after God’s glory filled the Mishkan was Am Yisrael’s redemption complete, and they merited to regain the level attained by their forefathers – that they themselves represented the chariot bearing the Divine Presence.


However, a closer look at the verses also reveals the opposite phenomenon: it is specifically after the inauguration of the Mishkan that Moshe is prevented from entering the Tent of Meeting, and a sort of barrier appears between him and God. We may suggest that the words “lo yakhol” mean that he was “not authorized” or “not permitted," rather than “not able” to enter, such that the text is not describing any deficiency in the relationship between Moshe and God. However, the literal reading of the verse suggests that Moshe was simply unable to enter the Tent of Meeting.


The verses provide two reasons for this inability: “For the cloud rested upon it," and “God’s glory filled the Mishkan." It seems that there is a profound difference between these two reasons.


The cloud resembles a locked door: it is a barrier that prevents Moshe from entering the Mishkan. The cloud, as it were, guards the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, blocking anyone from passing through. In contrast, “God’s glory," which fills the Mishkan, prevents Moshe from entering for a different reason.  It is not a matter of the Tent of Meeting being “locked”; rather God’s glory fills it completely, and hence there is no room for Moshe to enter, even if the cloud was not preventing him from doing so.


Either way, we come back to our question: why is it specifically after Am Yisrael ascends to such a lofty level that the direct encounter with God is blocked?


It would appear that when God came down to dwell amongst His people, He saw fit to emphasize the barrier separating Him from mortals. While God permits His Presence to dwell amongst the nation, this “dwelling” still has barriers and boundaries. “The Divine Presence never descended lower than ten handbreadths [from the ground]” (Sukka 5a). Despite the closeness between Am Yisrael and God, the Holy One remains transcendent. Even the most unique of men, Moshe himself, cannot enter the Mishkan while the Divine Presence rests there.


In fact, the same concept finds expression in the Temple, too.  As we know, the connection between Am Yisrael and God within the Temple was a special and powerful one:


“And the tips of the poles [of the Ark of the Covenant] were visible” – does this mean that they did not move from their place? [Surely not, and] accordingly the text teaches, “and the poles were long." Does this mean that they tore through the curtain and protruded? [Surely not, and] accordingly the text teaches, “And they were not seen on the outside." How was this possible? They pressed the curtain and protruded and stood out like a woman’s two breasts, as it is written, “a bundle of myrrh is my Beloved to me, lying between my breasts.” Rav Katina said: When Am Yisrael would make their pilgrimage, the curtain would be rolled back and they would be shown the keruvim, intertwined with each other, and they would say to them: “See how beloved you are before God – like the love of a man and woman.” (Yoma 54a)


However, it is precisely for this reason that it was important to emphasize, right at the beginning, at the inauguration of the Mishkan, that there remains a great distance between the Divine realm and the mortal realm:


And it was, when the kohanim emerged from the Kodesh, that the cloud filled God’s house, and the kohanim could not stand and minister because of the cloud, for God’s glory filled God’s house. (I Melakhim 8:10-11)


We may add that the two obstacles noted above express two distinct differences between God and man. The cloud represents God’s transcendental nature and man’s inability to grasp His essence or to reach Him. Any attempt to cleave to God’s actual essence is blocked, as it were, by a locked door. On the other hand, “God’s glory” symbolizes the intimacy of God’s closeness. The intensity of this intimacy is so great that the existence of all of Creation is placed in doubt, since “there is none but Him," and there is no room in the world for any other entity. It is as though there is no room for separate creations in the world in which God’s essence is revealed.


According to the above, the Mishkan expresses the situation that was meant to prevail in the world had it not been for God’s mercy which facilitates our existence, and the fact that the world continues to exist only by virtue of God’s will.


(This sicha was delivered on Shabbat parashat Pekudei 5755 [1995].)