When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on all their journeys, but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. (Shemot 40:36-7).
A pillar of cloud
portending God’s Presence
led us through the barren wilds.
Divine proximity is now obscured.
Impelled, we must now navigate
through turbid mists.
In her blog, http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2009/03/perceiving-god-radical-torah-repost.html, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat comments that the Israelites received clear guidance on their journeys by the very tangible pillar of cloud that showed them the way and when to move on. God’s presence was very clear and real to them. She compares that with today and asks, “How do we know when God is among us? How do we know when to stay encamped, and when to pick up stakes and keep moving? Sometimes we don’t, and we have to learn to do the best we can anyway. We have to believe that our journeying has a destination, even when we can’t see the pillar of smoke leading us from hither to yon. If we find that our lives map to a roundabout route, we owe it to our Source to trust that the divagations have a purpose.”
The Yalkut Yehudah* also points out that even when we are ostensibly settled peacefully in one place which appears like an encampment, we need to know that it is actually only a way-station and a new journey lies ahead.
On the phrase, “all their journeys,” Rashi comments that also their encamping was called a journey because from each encampment they would set off elsewhere. In a commentary on this parasha, http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-vayakhel-pekudei-encampments-and-journeys/ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses this point, saying, “Rashi has encapsulated in a few brief words – “a place where they encamped is also called a journey” — the existential truth at the heart of Jewish identity. So long as we have not yet reached our destination, even a place of rest is still called a journey – because we know we are not here for ever. There is a way still to go.” Rabbi Sacks cites from a poem by Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.**
Rabbi Sacks concludes, “To be a Jew is to travel, and to know that here where we are is a mere resting place, not yet a home…”
*Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ginsburg (1888–1946) was a Rabbi in Denver, Colorado. He moved to Denver from Yaroslavl, Russia where he had served as Rabbi. He is best known for his commentary on various parts of the Torah and rabbinic writings which deal mostly with the ethical teachings found within them.
In most of his works (especially Musar HaMishna and Musar HaNevim) Rabbi Ginsburg tried to find ethical teachings within the legal framework of the Mishna or the text of the prophets. In Yalkut Yehudah, however, he collected midrashim and presented a commentary on them.
**from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost.