WHERE IS THE PLACE OF HIS GLORY?
It is told that Rebbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk used to walk around his Bet Midrash and ask his Hassidim: Where is The Holy One, Blessed Be He?
Each of his Hassidim thought before answering, and then gave an answer based on this or that passage or on some dictum of Chazal.
- One said: “There is no place where He is not found”.
- Another said: “The Universe is filled with His glory”.
- The third said: “Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You”. . . and so on . . . learned answers all.
Then Rebbi Menachem Mendel rose and announced, in his thundering
voice: “You don’t understand – The Holy One, Blessed Be He, is found wherever one lets Him in!”
The problem of God’s revelation in our world engaged religious thought throughout the generations. In a certain sense, the question of revelation is tied up with the meaning of its existence for us today.
Our parasha, which completes the Book of Shemot and the description of the erection of the Mishkan, concludes with the following passages (40:33-38):
“And he set up the enclosure around the Tabernacle and the altar,
and put up the screen for the gate of the enclosure -
So Moshe finished the work.
Now the cloud covered the Tent of Appointment –
and the Glory of God filled the Dwelling.
Moshe was not able to come into the Tent of Appointment
for the cloud took up dwelling upon it –
and the Glory of God filled the dwelling.
Whenever the cloud goes up from the Dwelling,
The Children of Israel march on, upon all their marches;
If the cloud does not go up – they do not march on, until such time as it does go up.
For the cloud of God is over the Dwelling by day, and fire is by night in it,
before the eyes of all the House of Israel upon all their marches”.
At first glance, as we read the passages according to their plain meaning [p’shat], one might understand that following the completion of the Mishkan by Moshe’s hands, two events occurred:
A. A cloud covered the Tent of Appointment
B. The Glory of God filled the Mishkan
Both the cloud and the glory are designated “the cloud of God” and “the Glory of God” - the cloud above the Mishkan testifies to the existence of the Glory of God inside the Mishkan; as long as the cloud is seen above the Mishkan, Moshe is constrained from entering the Tent of Appointment and the Children of Israel are unable to progress on their desert journeys.
Can a contemporary Jew, who studies Torah and is not a mystic, comprehend the expression “the Glory of God” in a meaningful and relevant manner?
This expression appears a number of times in the Bible, in varying contexts. Most of the traditional commentators do not deal with the nature of that “glory” in our parasha, but in other places; explanations pertinent to the specific context are given.
Rabbi Efrayim of Lunshitz, author of the KLI YAKAR commentary, deems it necessary to differentiate between the cloud and the glory:
“The cloud covered the Tent of Appointment, and the Glory of God filled the cloud” – from this it appears that the Glory of God is not the cloud, but rather the fire and the light, i.e. the Glory of God was seen from within the cloud; were it not for the cloud, it would have been impossible to gaze upon it, for man cannot gaze into the light of the sun, kal va-chomer he cannot look at the brilliance of His Presence. Therefore the holy light was always seen from within the cloud, and when the Mishkan stood, the two [the cloud and the
Glory] were separated from each other, for the Divine light would enter the Mishkan, for there was the place of His holiness, and the cloud would remain outside . . . therefore it says here: Moshe was not able to come into the Tent of Appointment for the cloud took up dwelling in it – and the Glory of God filled the dwelling.” For if the Glory of God were combined with the cloud it would have been able for Moshe to enter into the cloud, as is recorded at the end of Parashat “Mishpatim” “Moshe entered the cloud”, because then the Glory of God was covered and it was possible for Moshe to enter the cloud, but now that they were separate from each other, the cloud being outside and the Glory of God was – without the cloud – inside the Tent, Moshe was unable to enter the Tent of Appointment . . .”
The author of the KLI YAKAR, then, imagines “the Glory of God” as light and fire, and the cloud serves as a protective shield preventing man from coming too close to the Glory of God.
Rashi (Shemot 16:7) explains the Glory of God in the context of the Manna, which fell every morning as an expression of something justifiably requested and willingly given:
“At daybreak you will see the Glory of God” – this is not identical with that glory of (v. 10) “behold, the Glory of God was seen in the cloud.” But this is what he said to them: In the morning you will know that He has the ability to satisfy your craving and He will provide meat. He will not give it with a smiling countenance because you asked improperly, on a full stomach. But the bread - which was requested in order to satisfy a real need - when it will fall in the morning you will see the glory of the light of His countenance, in that He will bring it down for you in the morning lovingly – there will be time to prepare it, dew above and dew below, as though placed in a box.”
‘The Glory of God’, in this context, is something given ‘lovingly’ as an answer to a legitimate existential need of man.
Rambam, in GUIDE OF THE PERPLEXED (Book 1, Chap. 19) relates to the entire universe as an expression of the Glory of God:
“The whole earth is full of His glory” – the meaning of this verse being that the whole earth bears witness to His perfection, that is, indicates it. Similar is the dictum: “And the Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” - every mention of ‘filling’ that you will find referring to God is used in this sense, and not in the sense of there being a body filling a place. However, if you wish to consider that the ‘Glory of the Lord’ is the created light that is designated as ‘glory’ in every passage, and is that which ‘filled the tabernacle’, there is no harm in it.”
Yeshaayahu Leibowitz (SEVEN YEARS OF DISCUSSION OF THE WEEKLY PARASHA, p. 432) understands Rambam’s words as follows:
“The Mishkan, which was built by Israel for the service of God, attests to God and to man’s cognizance of God, and this is the ‘Glory of God’ - there is nothing tangible, no object filling the Mishkan.”
The second part of the Rambam’s words is explained by Leibowitz in the following fashion:
“Rambam posits this assumption [the understanding of the concept ‘Glory of the Lord’] in order to accommodate the weak understanding of the student and the reader of the Torah, taking into consideration his intellectual level and the depth of his faith. This means that if the faith of the believer requires visualization of the cognizance of God, he is allowed to explain this passage as pointing out the visible phenomenon, such as that which Israel recognized. If, however, Man rises to a higher plane of understanding and his belief is profound, he does not need such tangible expression, but he well understands the ‘Glory of God’ mentioned here is only a stylistic representation of the service of God in the Mishkan.”
In any case, this approach has two components of the concept “Glory of God”:
- Observation of the universe as an expression of Divine Revelation; “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God”, and all creation is testimony to His existence, and Man can study the revelation of the Divinity through study of creation.
- The Glory of God as commitment of Man to being an active witness to the existence of God in the world: “My witnesses are you – declares the Lord” (Isaiah 43:10)
Perhaps the two components of “Glory of God” can be linked. Sometimes, everyone needs an external ‘light’ which makes it possible to see the Glory of God; this seeing provides an opportunity to serve, by one’s actions, as a living witness to the Glory of God. Sometimes, certain individuals can transform themselves into a Mishkan in which their behavior reveals the Glory of God. An allusion to this may be found in the order of priorities laid down in the Talmud in Tractate Megillah (3b), later codified by Rambam (Laws of Megillah 1:1):
“Rabba asks: The reading of the Megilla and the need to attend to burial of a meit mitzvah [a corpse having no one to bury it] – which takes precedence? [Do we say that] reading of Megilla takes precedence in order to publicize the miracle? Or perhaps attending to burial takes precedence – because of respect for people? After asking the question, he answered himself: Attention to the dead takes precedence. For the Master taught: Great is respect for people, for it defers every negative precept in the Torah.”
When faced with the choice of either publicizing the miracle performed for us on Purim or fulfilling the obligation to bury a meit mitzvah, we must choose the latter, out of respect for human beings. From this we may deduce that the sure sign of our ability to experience - and to give to- the Glory of God is seen through the respect we give man, every man – for the meit mitzvah is not someone renowned and important; it may be assumed that he is someone anonymous and destitute, created in the image of God.