Follow Your Cloud
This week’s Torah portion is the final one in the book of Exodus/Shemot. In it, we have the narration of the assembly and setting up of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that was the meeting place between God and the Israelites in the desert. And now that this Tabernacle structure is finally up and ready, the last paragraph of the parsha and of the Book of Exodus tells us a little about what occurred there.
And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. Moshe couldn’t enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and (because) the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan (then) the Israelites would embark on their journeys. But if the cloud did not arise, then they would not travel until it would again arise (from off the Mishkan.) For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and a fire on it at night, within eyesight of Israel throughout their journeys.
There aren’t a whole lot of specifics here, just some generic description of the cloud hovering over the Mishkan, God’s presence filling it and that this cloud was an indicator as to when the Israelites were to move or when they were to remain stationary.
But perhaps within this simple description is an important lesson nevertheless. For the Torah is basically saying that when God was present and visible to the Jewish people, as indicated by the cloud floating over the Mishkan, then they didn’t need to go anywhere. But once that cloud left, and along with it God’s presence, then they had to get moving. And maybe the simple message is that when God is in your midst, when He is in your life, you don’t really need to go anywhere. If His presence is there, then leave well enough alone and just stay put exactly where you are. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
On the other hand, when the cloud leaves, indicating that God has left, then you need to move on. When you are in a place where you see and feel that there isn’t spirituality, you need to get out of there and find and follow the cloud to the place where God is. If you are in a time and place in life when things feels empty, your soul thirsts and is not getting its due, then you need to proactively do something and move on to a space and place where your spirit can get nourishment.
An example and expression of how this works happens during the course of a normal week. On Shabbat the laws and restrictions make it difficult to travel and that is because you really don’t need to go anywhere to feel God’s presence. The day itself is holy and the Shechinah, Divine Presence is ever-present. You feel it at the Shabbat table, you feel it in the synagogue, you feel it in your community. You need not seek it out since on Shabbat it finds you. The Cloud, and God, is stationary.
But during the rest of the week, you have to keep an eye on the Mishkan, on your personal Tabernacle. Is the cloud there? Is God there? Is there a sign that the presence of God is in your life during your weekday activities? If not, you gotta get up and go find it. You have to actively do things during the course of your week-days to ensure there is a Godly cloud over and included in your activities. And if there isn’t, you better move on and do something to locate it, and to make it happen.
The Talmud offers us a nice piece of advice for those who find themselves in a bit of a spiritual funk; when you feel your life has stagnated and you are just spinning your wheels. שינוי מקום שינוי מזל – shinui makom, shinui Mazal means “change your place, (and you will) change you Mazal”. When you change your physical space, you end up changing your luck, fortune, destiny and connection to God.
It’s no accident that when people get down or depressed, they are physically stagnant, tired and sluggish. Inertia is the opposite of spirituality and growth, which is always on the move, improving and getting better. Often the solution to finding spirituality, meaning and growth in life isn’t necessarily to remain and contemplate but to just get a move on. Get off your behind and start doing… something, anything. Just move.
So if you are finding yourself spiritually stuck, take the lesson from the finale of the Book of Exodus. Seek and find your cloud, elsewhere if you must, and follow it to where God will lead you.
I live in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of my block
And I sit at home looking out the window
Imagining that the world has stopped
Then in flies a guy all dressed up just like a Union Jack
And says, “I’ve won five pounds if I have his kind of detergent pack”
I said, Hey!(Hey!) You! (You!) Get off of my cloud
Hey! (Hey!) You! (You!) Get off of my cloud
Don’t hang around boy
Two’s a crowd
On my cloud, baby!