During the Children of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, the Mishkan (tabernacle) served as their portable sanctuary and a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. The Mishkan was covered by a cloud during the day and by fire at night (Num. 9:15-16). This perplexing image of a holy airspace constantly cycling between cloud and fire is hard to comprehend. What is the lesson here?
Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin (1888-1978) compares this to the constantly turning wheel of fortune that affects us all. Some days we feel lucky and blessed; at other times it feels like everything is going wrong . As Sinatra famously sang, “Riding high in April, shot down in May…” Rabbi Zevin explains that the cloud settled over the Mishkan during the daylight hours to remind us that life isn’t always bright. And the fire that appeared at the darkest time teaches us that the darkness is not permanent. Similarly, we break a glass during the jubilant celebration of a wedding to remember the loss of our Holy Temple. If we remember the bad during times of good, we can remember the good in times of bad, making the bad more bearable. And at all times, we must remember the One above us, who gives us the strength to overcome all obstacles.
Image: The Israelites’ Encampment in the Wilderness by J.J. Derghi, 1866