Behaalotecha – Electric with vitality

15 On the day that the Miskan was set up, the cloud covered the Miskan – tent of the covenant [1] Cover over the Ark of the covenant – The Five Books of Moses – translated by Robert Alter – and in the evening a vision of fire was over the Miskan until the morning.

Numbers 9

The dialogue between Moshe and God’s immanence was the catalyst of epic proportions that led our people out of Egypt began in a fire on a mountain top.  Moshe already knew this fiery presence. He had seen it in the bush that was not consumed by it. He had stopped and stared before he perceived the voice of YHWH – The Eternal One.

11  In the second year, in the second month on the twentieth day of the month a cloud ascended from over the Miskan [2]Exodus 31:18 . 12 The children of Israel went on their journey from the Sinai desert; the cloud settled in the desert of Paran.

Numbers 10

What did the presence of God in the cloud feel like? When the cloud descended and enveloped the Tabernacle was it cold and forbidding? Did a chill spread through the camp? Were drops of vapor visible like crystal glass, fiery shining in the sun?

Could the moment it descended have been humid, hot and tropical? Was it an enormous cloud of heat – electric with vitality – that hit everyone in the camp of the children of Israel squarely in the face: aflame with God’s presence?

Pillar of fire?

2  The messenger from YHWH appeared to him in the flame of fire out of the bush; he watched it and the bush was on fire but was not being consumed. … 4 YHWH saw that he turned to watch, God called out to him from inside the bush saying: Moses, Moses. He said: here I am.

Exodus 3

Later the presence was felt to have returned to lead us through the wilderness into the Land of Israel by night as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud by day.

The ancient Tabernacle is lost forever. The cloud that settled on it has dissipated. Yet we still want to experience some of the overwhelming magnificence of those moments. If we allow our imaginations to wander and to reflect on those long-lost times, even for a moment, then maybe we will be able to understand and feel the joy in the words of the prophet Zechariah:

14 Sing out for joy daughter of Zion for I have come, I will dwell in your midst said YHWH.

Zechariah 2

Days pass and years vanish, we walk sightless among miracles. God, fill our eyes with the seeing and our minds with knowing. But there are moments when Your presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see wherever we gaze the bush burns unconsumed. And we clay touched by God, will reach out in holiness and exclaim in the wonder, "How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it."                by Chaim Stern from Gates of Prayer


1 Cover over the Ark of the covenant – The Five Books of Moses – translated by Robert Alter
2 Exodus 31:18