In the beginning, God created the world and set us with light and darkness, day and night, Or v’Choshech. We see the transition between literal light and darkness every twenty-four hours, but we also use these extremes metaphorically. We might refer to a change in a person’s behavior or an experience by saying “the difference was like night and day.” Sometimes we talk about the “light at the end of the tunnel,” that beam that gives us hope, a sign that “brighter” days are ahead.
Our parshah this week, parshat P’kudei, is the last portion in the book of Shemot, which began with Moses in Egypt. Described as “good” in his very simple beginning, Moses moves on to tackle the challenge of leading the Israelite people from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light. The journey isn’t always easy. Along the way Moses is timid and shy, insisting that perhaps he is not the right person for the job. The Israelite people are also afraid to move forward. Throughout this book they fear that life was better in Egypt, where the people were always taken care of with food, water, shelter. In the desert they aren’t so sure where their next meal would come from. The Israelite people are a people in need of constant reassurance and reminders that they are o.k.
Having to struggle with both light and dark times on their journey doesn’t help matters. A great moment of light when the Israelites are let free from Egypt, singing at the sea, is followed by the darkness of an enormous loss of life as the Pharaoh’s army is crushed by the waters. We have light when we receive the Ten Commandments at Sinai, only to be followed by darkness when the Israelites disobey the commandments and build the golden calf.
Along the way, the people are informed that they are to be led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. The pillar of fire provides light in the midst of the darkness of night, and the cloud provides a spot of dark comfort against the harsh brightness of the day. The Israelites are a people who need tangible evidence in their world. Throughout this book they have been asked to build theMishkan, the tabernacle in which God’s presence rests, and the Ohel Moed, the meeting place between the divine spirit and the human.
These two structures are built so that the Israelites will understand the power of encountering God and better understand the presence of God. While a cloudy day might feel dark and dreary, that is a sign of God’s presence. And, living in Texas, the sun and light of the summer might feel oppressive, but that too is a moment of Godly encounter. Our parshah ends with the cloud settling upon the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, and God’s presence filling the Tabernacle.
The book opened with a narrative of oppression, misery and confusion, and ends with a sign of hope. The cloud will lift up from the Tabernacle, allowing the Israelites to steadily move forward. The struggle in these pages is evident: relying on pure faith alone isn’t easy. When we are able to look at the cloud and see the light that shines forth around it or when we see the bright sun in the summer and do not focus on the heat, that is when we can truly bask in the presence of God.
Family Discussion Questions:
- Our ‘ethical covenant’ reminds us that we have a relationship with God. If God is all around us, what do you think is the importance of a “meeting place” between the human spirit and the divine spirit?
- How do you overcome your own dark moments?