Pekudei: Divine Protection

A Purple Cloud

Would our lives be easier or harder if God’s palpable presence still directed our steps?

Table for Five: Pekudei

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

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.

-Ex. 40:36-37


Bracha Goetz, Author of 42 Jewish children’s books

Mishkan means “dwelling” and it refers to the portable “Tent of Meeting” in which the Almighty’s Presence chose to dwell among us – on our level! It was built soon after we were freed from slavery in Egypt, and it accompanied us on our journeys through the desert.

And there was a cloud hovering over our Mishkan, guiding and protecting us along the way, showing us which direction to go. According to the Midrash Yalkut, the cloud shone with a brilliant purple. And when other nations saw it from a distance they were inspired by its radiance. It dissipated at one point, when we began to doubt in the Almighty and became fearful, worshipping a golden idol. But once our intimate relationship with the Source of all was appreciated more fully, the cloud returned to guide us.

Wow, imagine if we had a brilliant cloud like that now – making clear to us when to stay put or move on in life! Wait! Maybe we kinda still do! When we are experiencing mindful gratitude for the gifts we are all receiving in our lives, then we become Divine souls shining with a radiant light. We pause to stay present, recognizing our abundant blessings.

And when we are taking things for granted and not valuing what we already have, it’s a sign guiding us to recognize the Almighty’s Presence dwelling within our lives. Time to move on to a place of radiant gratitude – just what the soul needs to shine!


Rabbi Michael Barclay, www.NerSimcha.org

“Are we there yet?” Every parent has heard the phrase from their children during a road trip. A sign of the child’s impatience to get to the destination so badly, it is also a demonstration of their lack of faith in the parent that they A: know where they are going, and B: are aware of a larger understanding that the journey is as important, and sometimes even more important as the destination.

This verse demonstrates how important the journey actually is, and that our ancestors needed to have perfect faith in God during their travels. This is a vital lesson for the Jewish people… both then and now. While the giving of daily manna kept them reliant upon God for sustenance, this edict caused them to stay aware of constantly being under God’s cloud of protection. To make a conscious choice to always be in relationship with and directed by God. To surrender their illusion of power, and subjugate themselves to God’s will. To know that their real safety comes only through their relationship with the Divine.

Now more than ever, this is a teaching every Jew must remember. We are not protected from Jew-haters through civil law or even firearms. Israel is not ultimately protected from the evils of Hamas through the Iron Dome. The Dome, laws, and all protections are entirely and exclusively a manifestation of our willingness to be connected to and protected by the cloud of God’s Presence. May we always be safe dwelling under God’s holy cloud of protection.


Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Judaic Studies Faculty, Shalhevet High School

[Insert “original GPS” joke here.] In all seriousness, these verses indicate that the cloud served not only as a guide through the desert, but it also stood vigil over the mishkan when it sat sedentary. This means that the cloud was a constant presence during the day – a pillar of fire replaced it at night.

Ovadiah Sforno notes that the cloud’s ever-presence was a unique feature of the mishkan during the period Israel traveled through the desert. The cloud demonstrated that the Shekhinah, God’s divine presence, was with them. Later, however, no cloud watched over the mishkan when it sat in Shiloh, nor was it a presence over either the first or second Temples.

Interestingly, the book of Shemot and the exodus narrative end on this note. The generation that left Egypt witnessed the miracles of the plagues, the splitting of the sea, and the giving of the Torah. Yet, they needed constant reassurance of God’s presence and protection. Look what happened when Moshe left for just a little too long! Such was the nation in its infancy. Once they entered the land of Israel, however, Israel was charged with taking greater responsibility for themselves. God’s palpable presence was no longer necessary. A mature faith, just like a mature love, does not require constant reassurance. We do not need a visible cloud to let us know Hashem is with us and cares about us. We need only seek Him in the quiet miracles that surround us every day.


Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple

Would our lives be easier or harder if we knew exactly which direction God wanted us to journey? To dwell in a world in which free will was limited and God was all-controlling. While the anxiety of decision-making would be eliminated, wonder, surprise and awe might also be rid from existence. How are miracles experienced when we are face-to face with a God that commands each of our waking steps?

In a modern world, we explore the notion of hester panim, a God actively hiding their face. This theology is one in which human beings maintain power over their choices but still experience a present God. Not a God that moves each human limb to do God’s desire, but a God that is “veiled enough” to allow for a magical blend of divine involvement with human interaction. Rabbi Irving Greenberg writes, “A simple denial of God would appear to deny the reality of redemption in our time and the validation of biblical promise by contemporary fulfillment.”

In other words, while we don’t physically and mentally “move” when God’s presence lifts from our homes, God is still very much present. The question remains: who is hiding from whom? Remember the title of Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s famous book: God in Search of Man. Perhaps modern theology is no longer wondering where God has been. God is eternally here. The question God continues to ask: where are you?


Rabbi Jonathan Leener, Prospect Heights Shul

Though the sages of the Midrash debate the exact number, all agree: the clouds that accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness played a remarkable role. They served not only as a celestial navigation system, directing the Israelites where to go, but also, perhaps in a more overlooked way, when to go. After all, some of life’s greatest challenges surround navigating the delicate balance between staying and leaving. We may cling to a place for too long, fearing the unknown, or conversely, abandon a place too soon, giving up on its potential. While the mystical clouds dissipated after Aaron’s death, Hashem’s guidance remains, though less visible. The Jewish calendar offers markers: on Shabbat, we stay put, as the Midrash teaches, ‘No man may leave his place.’ Conversely, Sukkot encourages us to leave our homes and dwell in temporary sukkahs. Beyond these helpful markers, trust your intuition. After all, Hashem resides within each of us, and these ‘special clouds’ of guidance, though unseen, always exist.


With thanks to Bracha Goetz, Rabbi Michael Barclay, Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Rabbi Nicole Guzik, and Rabbi Jonathan Leener

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