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Look Up

The Torah tells us that Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived. Unlike other prophets to whom God spoke through dreams and visions, the Torah tells us that God spoke to Moses face-to-face. In fact, he was way ahead of his time because (Warning…. Dad Joke Ahead!) he was the first person to have a tablet connected to the Cloud. OK, I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist because this week's Parsha, Parshat Behaalotecha, tells us that after the Israelites dedicated the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai, whenever they camped in a location, a cloud covered the Tabernacle during the day and a pillar of fire by night. The text says:

וּבְיוֹם, הָקִים אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת; וּבָעֶרֶב יִהְיֶה עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, כְּמַרְאֵה-אֵשׁ--עַד-בֹּקֶר

And on the day that the Tabernacle was set up the cloud covered it; and at evening there was upon the Tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until morning.

כֵּן יִהְיֶה תָמִיד, הֶעָנָן יְכַסֶּנּוּ; וּמַרְאֵה-אֵשׁ, לָיְלָה

So it was that the cloud covered it (by day), and the appearance of fire by night.

וּלְפִי הֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן, מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל--וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן, יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּבִמְקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכָּן-שָׁם הֶעָנָן--שָׁם יַחֲנוּ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

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 settled, there the children of Israel encamped.

Numbers 9:15-17

This parsha isn't the first to describe the imagery of God as a cloud. Personally, I've always found it much more comforting and satisfying than the usual anthropomorphic imagery. There's no question about the gender of a cloud. There's no question about the race of a cloud. There's no question about the sexual orientation of a cloud.

There is one question, however: Why a cloud?

I can understand the Pillar of Fire. Fire is powerful. Fire is terrifying. Fire will destroy anything in its way. The Pillar of Fire can be seen from a distance at night. The Pillar of Fire is awesome. But a cloud? A cloud is wispy. A cloud blows with the wind. A cloud dissipates. A cloud doesn't have a clear form. A cloud is soothing, not awesome or powerful. So again, I ask… why a cloud? This is a very cirrus question. (Sorry. I did it again).

This question leads to another, namely: What is a cloud? National Geographic states, "Clouds are visible accumulations of tiny water droplets or ice crystals in the Earth's atmosphere. Clouds usually appear white because the tiny water droplets inside them are tightly packed, reflecting most of the sunlight that hits them. White is how our eyes perceive all wavelengths of sunlight mixed together. Clouds form when air becomes saturated, or filled with water vapor." We see a cloud, but in fact, what we are seeing is water in its gaseous state. This insight gives us an indication as to why a cloud represents the presence of God.

There is no question that the Pillar of Fire at night invokes power and awe. The Cloud represents something completely different. The cloud is water. Water is the only substance in our world that exists naturally in all three states liquid, gas, and solid. Despite its power, fire is extinguished by water. Yet, when fire is applied to liquid water, the water is not destroyed… it simply evaporates and transitions to water vapor. From there, it is carried on the air currents in the troposphere (where Earth's climate is created) where it condenses into rain and falls back to Earth or freezes and becomes snow. When fire is applied to solid water (ice), the ice melts and transitions to liquid water. This is the hydrologic cycle. Water never ends. It cannot be destroyed. In fact, unlike most other objects on the planet, water cannot be carbon-dated. It has no beginning, and it has no end. Water is what is necessary for life to exist.

As we look at the nature or reason for the imagery of the Torah concerning the presence of God being water, I am reminded of Yigdal, the song we sing at the end of the Friday night Shabbat Service.

יִגְדַּל אֱלֹהִים חַי וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח, נִמְצָא וְאֵין עֵת אֶל מְצִיאוּתוֹ

Exalted and praise the living God who exists beyond the boundaries of time.

[As noted above, water cannot be carbon-dated. It exists beyond the boundaries of time.]

אֶחָד וְאֵין יָחִיד כְּיִחוּדוֹ, נֶעְלָם וְגַם אֵין סוֹף לְאַחְדוּתוֹ

Most singular of all, concealed yet also without end to Its unity.

[Water is the most unifying force on Earth. Every living being is made up mostly of water. No life is created without water.]

אֵין לוֹ דְמוּת הַגּוּף וְאֵינוֹ גוּף, לֹא נַעֲרֹךְ אֵלָיו קְדֻשָּׁתוֹ

It has no body — nor even the appearance of a body, it is impossible to measure Its holiness.

[Water has no form beyond its molecular structure. While humans treat water cheaply, its true "value" is impossible to measure.]

קַדְמוֹן לְכָל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר נִבְרָא, רִאשׁוֹן וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית לְרֵאשִׁיתוֹ

It preceded everything that was created, first of all, and yet Itself without a beginning.

[Genesis 1:1-2… Water preceded everything else in Creation, and the text does not say when water was created. It simply is.]

הִנּוֹ אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם לְכָל נוֹצָר, יוֹרֶה גְדֻלָּתוֹ וּמַלְכוּתוֹ

Behold the Master of the world, every creature is in awe of Its greatness and Its sovereignty.

[Every creature is mostly water. Without water, every creature would die. This is its greatness. This realization should elicit our awe.]

It is worth noting that the last word of this line מַלְכוּתוֹ (sovereignty), comes from the word מֶלֶך meaning "King," which shares the same numerical value (90 in Gematria) as the word מים. The same Gematria of the two words, according to our tradition, indicates a deeper connection.

So, when is a cloud more than just a puffy thing in the sky? When it represents the presence of the Divine in our midst. When it represents that which makes life possible.

And did you hear about the King who became a cloud? He rained forever. (I'm so sorry. I couldn't help myself.) Shabbat Shalom.


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