Pekudei

The final psukim of Parshat Pekudei (and therefore Sefer Shmot) record:

לו  וּבְהֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכֹל מַסְעֵיהֶם. 36 And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.
לז  וְאִם לֹא יֵעָלֶה הֶעָנָן וְלֹא יִסְעוּ עַד-יוֹם הֵעָלֹתוֹ. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.
לח  כִּי עֲנַן ה’ עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם וְאֵשׁ תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ לְעֵינֵי כָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל מַסְעֵיהֶם. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
The Netziv comments that the Annan (Heavenly Cloud) in the daytime and the fiery pillar at night were the same “object”, so to speak. There were not two separate divine occurrences, rather at night the cloud would simply light up as a consuming fire, and in the morning the fire would disappear and the cloud would remain.
He learns this from 2 places: (1) the Torah tells us in passuk 36 that the cloud would only rise when it was time for Bnei Yisrael to travel to their next destination. If the cloud were replaced by the fire every night, then it would have to move from its spot, and it only did so when it was time to embark to the next location. Bnei Yisrael, however, didn’t travel every night! Thus, it must be that the cloud stayed in place every night and became a large fiery pillar. (2) Additionally, he quotes from later in the Torah, in Bamidbar 9:15-16, which describes how the Annan and Amud/Mar’eh Aish functioned:
טו  וּבְיוֹם, הָקִים אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת; וּבָעֶרֶב יִהְיֶה עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, כְּמַרְאֵה-אֵשׁ–עַד-בֹּקֶר. 15 And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, even the tent of the testimony; and at evening there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until morning.
טז  כֵּן יִהְיֶה תָמִיד, הֶעָנָן יְכַסֶּנּוּ; וּמַרְאֵה-אֵש לָיְלָה. 16 So it was always: the cloud covered it, and the appearance of fire by night.
יז  וּלְפִי הֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן, מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל–וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן, יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּבִמְקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכָּן-שָׁם הֶעָנָן–שָׁם יַחֲנוּ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 17 And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped.

The Netziv doesn’t say this explicitly, (so this could be entirely incorrect) but I believe that there is an underlying message being conveyed here. The protective cloud and the intense flame were not just from the same source (Hashem – the source of everything), but it was exactly the same “object”. At times the Mishhkan was covered by a cloud and other times by fire. The Midrash in Pekudei notes that Bnei Yisrael rejoiced when they saw the cloud and were in fear of the consuming flame in the evening. At times we feel Hashem’s love and benevolence; and then there are times, lo aleinu, when we feel scared, confused and engulfed by flames. It is the same Hashem who controls both.

The last 2 words of the Sefer, tell us that this Annan / Aish was with Bnei Yisrael “bCHOL mah’seihem” = in ALL their journeys. The Netziv points out from the Torah’s use of KOL that Hashem was with them not just for the travels initiated by Hashem, but through all their travels and sojourns; through the positive journeys and encampments and the negative ones, Hashem was with them. Says the Netziv, at every stop the purpose of the Annan / Aish was fully intact and “tamid”.

The perpetual state of arriving in a place and not knowing the duration of the stay and not knowing the next destination, was probably very unsettling. Indeed, this has been the case throughout Jewish History; wherever we settled, we never knew for how long we would stay and whenever we were expelled, we never knew how long it would take before we would land on safe shores. In a weak attempt to relate, l’havdil, I imagine packing a suitcase and being told to go from city to city, hotel to hotel, on a moment’s notice, not knowing if I should unpack my suitcase at each location or where I was going next. The major difference (among many), however, is that Bnei Yisrael had a promise from Hashem that they would eventually be led into Eretz Yisrael. As it states in Yirmiyahu, לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה
While it may have felt like wandering, they had a destination. The appearance of the cloud every morning and the guiding nature of the cloud when it was time to travel, was likely a very comforting tool employed by Hashem for Bnei Yisrael.
We continue to have this promise from Hashem with the promise of the ultimate Geulah.

לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת
בָּעֶרֶב יָלִין בֶּכִי וְלַבֹּקֶר רִנָּה

The night can be dark and frightening, but, b’ezras Hashem, we can maintain emunah at night and find comfort in the morning.

כִּי עֲנַן ה’ עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם וְאֵשׁ תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ לְעֵינֵי כָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל מַסְעֵיהֶם
This final passuk of Sefer Shemot contains promises of protection, through the good and the bad, on all journeys. Perhaps with this in mind, we can feel the permanence of our nation’s existence in this world — hence the special usage of Beit Yisrael”, instead of the more ubiquitous, “Bnei Yisrael”. With such emunah, we can feel we are a more permanent and established house of Israel; a very fitting conclusion to the Sefer Ha’Geula, and a message for all generations as we wait for Bi’as HaMashiach, b’mehaira b’yamienu.

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