Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel Pekudei| 5763
Where There’s a Cloud, There’s FireHarav Yosef Carmel
One of the last p’sukim of Shemot says: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle” (Shemot 40:34). This pasuk is reminiscent of the Torah’s description of the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. There, it says: “Moshe ascended the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai, and the cloud covered it (Shemot 24:15-16).
These events epitomize, to a degree, the goals of the Exodus. The promise not only to take Bnei Yisrael out, but also to give them the Torah and have His presence dwell among them, was fulfilled. In addition to the cloud, a further expression of Hashem’s presence appears in Parashat Shemini: “Fire came out from before Hashem and consumed on the altar” (Vayikra 9:24). That section of the Torah is a continuation of our parsha, and the Ramban connects it to Har Sinai. The Ramban writes: “The secret of the mishkan (Tabernacle) was that the glory which dwelled on Har Sinai would dwell on the mishkan in a discreet manner” (introduction to Parashat Terumah).
We find the descent of the holy cloud by the building of the Beit Hamikdash of Shlomo (Melachim I, 8:10). It is surprising that we don’t find the description of the descending fire at the erection of the Beit Hamikdash. This is in stark contrast to the presence of heavenly fire by the altars of Manoach (Shoftim 13:2) and Eliyahu at Har Carmel (Melachim I, 18:38). Only in Divrei Hayamim (II, 7:1) is there mention of fire from the heavens at the Beit Hamikdash.
The Meshech Chuchma has a fascinating explanation of the “missing fire.” The fact that the fire is found on altars is exactly what caused Melachim to leave it out. The greatest spiritual shortcoming of the First Temple period, which even great kings (until Yoshiyahu) were unable to rectify, was the sacrifices on altars outside the Beit Hamikdash (bamot). Yirmiyahu, who wrote Melachim, feared that stressing the similarity between the Beit Hamikdash and other famous altars would blur differences between them. People would misunderstand the concept of “and I shall dwell among them” as a carte blanche to worship when and how they desired. Ezra wrote Divrei Hayamim after the “slaughter” of the yetzer hara of avoda zara, which was a major part of the problem of bamot. Therefore, hewas able to include the full description since, at that point, all accepted the centrality of Yerushalayim in our Divine service.
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