Posted on March 23, 2011
by Mike Knopf
In parashat Pekudei (Shemot 38:21-40:38), the three-parasha long construction of the Mishkan is completed, and the text says “The cloud [of God] covered the Ohel Moed [Mishkan], and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. And Moses was not able to enter the Ohel Moed, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.”
This is interesting because here, Moshe is not allowed in the presence of God; but in only a few Parashiot before-hand, he is said to have been in the presence of God for forty days and forty nights. How can this be? What’s with the double standard?
The issue, here, was apparently that when Moshe wanted to enter the Mishkan with God’s presence upon it, it was at the eye-level of public view, whereas when Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai (which also had God’s presence), it was out of the people’s sight. Meaning to say that Moshe entering the Mishkan was a great deal more visible to the people than his reaching the top of Mt. Sinai. In this sense, we can derive that Moshe’s connection with God is not intended to be a publicly witnessed event–that the actual encounter is meant only for him as a personal experience, and only when he is outside of the direct presence of God may he relay God’s messages to the B’nai Yisrael. When all of B’nai Yisrel is watching Moshe enter the Mishkan, and can essentially see what is going on inside of the Mishkan, it detracts from the privacy of Moshe’s meeting with God. Therefore, God denies Moshe entrance to the Mishkan while God’s cloud is upon it.
With this in mind, this seemingly insignificant piece of Torah actually has profound significance upon one of our important activities as Jews: T’filot. While it is extremely important in Judaism to pray with a Minyan, or in a congregation, Judaism also stresses the importance of personal reflection in prayer and a personal and private relationship with God; this is why at certain times in T’filot, when we daven silently (most notably in the Amidah, parts of the Shema, etc), it is equally important for every individual Jew to establish a personal relationship with God through davening as it is to daven in a minyan, or out loud. We can enter the cloud of God when we are not publicly davening (or even when we are davening silently in a minyan), but we can’t enter the cloud when we daven out loud–just as Moshe was unable to at the dedication of the Mishkan.
This is not to detract from the importance of davening out loud or in a Minyan, only to point out the separate significance of both. However, sometimes when prayers are conducted in a service, or said out loud, they become routine or lacking in kavanah, but one is free to express however much kavanah he or she wants when they are davening to themselves. So the next time you have the opportunity to daven silently, do not just sit back and eye the words–this is when you are in the cloud of God.
Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek