The physical events faced by the people in the Torah have timeless spiritual messages/points to them. For example, the journey of the Bnei Yisrael in the desert represents the general journey of spiritual growth. (R Tatz). [As a complete aside, someone once asked me the following question - how can it be given the greatness of the brothers of Yosef that we are supposed to learn something from their selling Yosef (the question can be about anyone and any event in Torah.)? Therefore, they continued, we are supposed to ignore the fact that they were great and deserved of prophecy, etc in order that we should be able to relate to them and get a message/morals from their doings. Now whilst the question is a good one, we tend not to ignore things in Torah, especially if they are facts - the brothers did have greatness and lived at levels beyond our clear perception. But we can still learn timeless lessons at our levels from them. Just like people on different levels can learn lessons from Torah too; some say that this is why we say ‘Baruch Hamakom…shenasan Torah…’ before the four sons in the pesach haggadah - to show that the Torah applies to all of them at their different respective levels.]
Let’s take this idea and apply it to the rules given in the middle of perek 9 of our sedra. We are told that during the day the cloud was over the Mishkan, whilst at night it was fire (9; 16). And when we were to journey the cloud would lift itself up. Then, once it finishes with these instructions, we are told that ‘by the Mouth of HaShem they shall camp and by the Mouth of HaShem they shall travel (9;20).’ Surely we know this already from the travelling rules set out in the previous psukim- what does this add? Why a cloud at day and fire at night? Why not fire at day and a bright cloud at night, for example?
A possible insight is the following…the Maharal (Netiv Hatorah perek 4) points out that night time is the time of emunah and of seeing HaShem’s Presence - it’s the removal of the physical world (we can’t see physical things at night - it’s dark), whilst day is therefore the ability to see physicality and the presence of its potential distraction from serving HaShem. Thus, HaShem’s Presence is more hidden during the day and more visible at night. So too is there a cloud - signifying a degree of hiddenness (like the shielding ketores cloud) during the day, whilst at night there is the clear spectacle of fire to reflect this principle. Torah, the clear word of HaShem, is called fire too; ‘oraisa,’ the word used to refer to Torah, means fire (R Tatz). And note that night was HaShem’s first contact with the world in creation too, and before creation it is described at the start of Bereishis as darkness and full of HaShem’s presence - Bersishis 1;2.
This contrast of day and night as representing respective spiritual clarity and blurriness has another expression. In Devarim 16;1 (and 16;6) we are told that HaShem took us out of Egypt in the night, whilst other pesukim (e.g. Shemos 12;51, Devarim 16;3) clearly say that the Exodus occurred during the day. Which one was it; were we taken out at night or in the day? R Shimon Shwab explains (based on gemarra brachos 9a) that there were two stages of our redemption; spiritual and physical. Night-time saw the spiritual freedom of the Bnei Yisrael (when we slaughtered the Egyptian gods in public) whilst the day witnessed the physical Exodus from the land of Egypt. This fits nicely with the above idea that night symbolises spiritual clarity - and thus it was during night-time that the spiritual redemption took place - and the day is the realm of the physical world to show its strength; so the physical redemption was in the middle of the day.
This leads to a lovely explanation of a verse in Tehillim which we say on Shabbes (‘lehagid baboker chasdecha…) that in the morning we tell over HaShem’s chesed, whilst emunah is for night. Why is emunah at night and chesed in the day? At one level, it can be based on the above concept; that emunah is for nights because we see HaShem’s presence there more easily with the removal of the physical world. Whilst in the morning we tell of HaShem’s chesed in how He interacts with the physical world in His actions and kindness He does for us; that He does not hide Himself completely behind the physical world but still allows us to see Him if we look hard enough. On a deeper level though, morning as we said means seeing/experiencing the physical world, whilst night means the lack of it. Morning (light) is when everything is going physically well and people are rich with all the physical things they need, whilst nights (darkness) is when there is less materialism. When all is going well for us physically, then at most we can speak of the chesed He has done to us, but our showing of real emunah unfortunately has come when we did not have such wealth and were persecuted, etc, (chagigah 9b), as the psukim in Dvarim say and as history has shown. This might also be behind the pasuk in the curses (Devarim 28; 67) which tells that if we sin then ‘in the morning we will seek the evening and in the evening we will ask for morning,’ I.e. at time of our downfall due to sin, we will ask for evening (clearer showing of HaShem’s Presence) but will then ask for the same lack of clarity of morning again. In other words we will have a constant oscillation between seeking spirituality and choosing to push it away.
Our sedra tells us that when the cloud goes up, Bnei Yisrael travel but when the cloud is down then no travelling, and both are ‘by the Mouth of HaShem. Perhaps this is telling us that there are times in life when the Presence of HaShem is clearer (cloud up) and one can made strides forward in their spiritual journey. But there will be other times when the cloud is down, things are not so clear, and the journey takes a break to recharge. And vitally, (in response to the question we asked) both are ‘by the Mouth of HaShem’ I.e. both progress and stationary positions are in the plan of HaShem and are both beneficial at different times, for this is the pattern of a Jew’s life - hence (9;16) we are told ‘this is what it will be like always’ regarding the cloud and fire, to symbolise these two continuously oscillating periods in life.
In fact, I once heard an interesting idea based on this regarding bowing/shockling during davening. Someone told me that he read that an idea behind shockling is that the continuous bowing back and forth is to symbolise our back-and-forth relationship with HaShem as described above. And we find the same idea in Ashrei when half the lines refer to HaShem as ‘You’ and the other as ’He’, like the bracha over bread. The Vilna Gaon explained this by noting that referring to HaShem in the second person (‘You’) always means a closeness between us and Him, whilst the third person is lashon nistar (hidden), implying a distance. Thus, we have half the lines using ‘You’ and half the lines using ‘He,’ complementing this idea that there are times of clarity and proximity to HaShem and times when we feel further from HaShem. And the mishna brura at one point says swaying side to side (as opposed to back and forward) during davening is a sign of gaavah (haughtiness); maybe because this would symbolise a status of always being the same distance from HaShem, and not the true periods of ‘up and down’ which mark the way of a Jewish person’s spiritual life.
Have a great Shabbes,
Daniel and Janine

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