Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beshalach
To dedicate this lesson

Glory in the Clouds


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

7 Shvat 5768
Even after the great miracles of the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, and the Splitting of the Sea, Bnei Yisrael were yet to reach their final destination of spiritual stability. A month after the Exodus, the complaints began: "Had we only died at the hands of Hashem in Egypt when we were sitting on the pot of meat, when we ate bread to satiation, that you took us to the desert to kill the entire congregation from hunger" (Shemot 16:3). Hashem’s answer contains an expression that appears here for the first time in the Torah and seems oddly out of place: "In the evening you will know that Hashem took you out of the Land of Egypt and in the morning you will see the glory of (k’vod) Hashem as he heard your complaints ... They looked to the desert, and the glory of Hashem was seen in the cloud" (ibid.: 6-10).

What is this "glory of Hashem"? We begin with the words of Prof. Nechama Leibovitz, the generation’s teacher of parashat hashavua: "The visible glory of Hashem- can we know what it is? From the time that Asaf lamented, "There is no longer a prophet in Israel and no one among us knows to what" (Tehillim 74:9), no one among us knows the nature of prophecy or the nature of seeing the visions of Hashem. Only one who merited to be exposed to the Divine Presence will know what its nature is."

Rashi uses the opportunity to teach a moral lesson. Bnei Yisrael would receive at night a realization that Hashem has the ability to fulfill their desires and provide meat. However, since the request of meat was done improperly they would experience it without "a shining face," whereas by day, they would receive bread along with the glory of Hashem, as the bread would fall with love. According to this approach, the glory of Hashem once refers to a sign of love and another time refers to Divine Revelation. But why does the Torah use confusing terminology?

K’vod Hashem appears in several contexts of this era, including Mt. Sinai, the kohanim’s clothing, and the events in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Ramban (to Bereishit 18:1) connects between k’vod Hashem and Hashem’s relationship with those close to Him in regard to His visit of Avraham. Avraham, he says, was not trying to receive prophecy at that moment, yet Hashem appeared to him in a vision. This honored Avraham and showed his stature, just as Hashem’s Presence honored Bnei Yisrael at the Mishkan, when their efforts to erect it made them so deserving.

According to the Ramban’s approach, not only did Hashem find Bnei Yisrael worthy of grace at historically positive times, but even when they had complaints, they deserved grace when they handled themselves properly. Turning the right way, one could see the Presence in the cloud. In these difficult days, which seem to be days of darkness and haze, we should remember that behind the cloud there is always a great light.
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