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29.05.2017 12:34    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  naso  sasson  

“When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting”

At the end of Parashat Naso, the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the altar having been completed, we read:  “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him” (Num. 7:89).[1]

Moses entering the Tent of Meeting, as described in this verse, contradicts the parallel description of the inauguration of the Tabernacle at the end of the book of Exodus:  “…the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34-35).  If Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because of the cloud, according to this account, how and when did the encounter between the Lord and Moses, as described in this week’s reading, take place?  Another difficulty is that on Mount Sinai Moses did enter the cloud:  “When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain.  The Presence of the Lord abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days.  On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud…Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain” (Ex. 24:15-18).

If so, why could Moses not enter the cloud over the Tabernacle?

The Sages were aware of these questions and proposed a variety of answers.  One of them appears in Sifra (baraitha de-Rabbi Ishmael, Finkelstein ed., p. 10):

How can it be that one passage says, “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him” (Num. 7:89), but another passage says, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting” (Ex. 40:35)?  One cannot maintain, “When Moses went” since it has been said “Moses could not”; and one cannot maintain “Moses could not” since it has been said “When Moses went.”  The matter is decided by the words, “because the cloud had settled upon it” (loc. cit.).  Thus, as long as the cloud was there, Moses would not enter; but as soon as the cloud departed, he would enter and speak with Him.

Rabbi Jose of Galilee says:  It says, “and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, [for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord]” (I Kings 8:11).  This teaches us that the destroying angels were permitted to make trouble.

Likewise it says, “[as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock] and shield you with My hand until I have passed by” (Ex. 33:22), which teaches that the destroying angels were permitted to make trouble.

It also says, “Concerning them I swore in anger, ‘They shall never come to My resting-place’” (Ps. 95:11); when My anger subsides, they will come to My resting-place.

The above source presents two homilies.  The first points out the contradiction between this week’s reading and the passage at the end of Exodus, and resolves the issue by saying that Moses did not enter the Tabernacle as long as the cloud had not lifted.  The second, that of Rabbi Jose of Galilee (from the generation of Yavneh), explains how the first homily arrived at its conclusion:  the place where the Presence of the Lord abides is fraught with danger, for the destroying angels are permitted to make trouble there, and therefore Moses refrained from entering.  This resolution of the difficulty by Sifra leaves the question above outstanding—how was it that Moses entered the cloud on Mount Sinai?  In addition, suggesting that Moses entered after the cloud had lifted does not go along with the continuation of the text in Exodus, according to which the cloud lifting meant the Israelites had to continue their journey (Ex. 40:36).[2]

Later sources take a different approach to reconciling the passages from Scripture.  For example, Tanhuma (Leviticus 1, Buber edition, p. 2):

And who be it?  Moses.  For [the Holy One, blessed be He] said to him:  Build a Tabernacle.  He promptly did so, but would stand by himself, from without, for he feared to enter the Tent of Meeting, as it is said, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting…for over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested” (Ex. 40:35‑38).  The Holy One, blessed be He said:  It is not proper that Moses, who took pains over the Tabernacle, should stand outside while I am within!  Rather, I will call to him to enter.  Therefore it is written, “The Lord called to Moses [and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying]” (Lev. 1:1), for the righteous have the strength to hear His voice.

This homily is based on connecting the end of Exodus with the beginning of Leviticus.  Contrary to what is said in Sifra, here Moses indeed enters the cloud in response to the Lord calling him, just as he was called to Him on Mount Sinai.

A similar line is seen in the following homily from Midrash ha-Gadol (Margaliyot ed., vol. 4, p. 795), but here Moses is not afraid of the Divine Presence, rather he pays it respect:

Another interpretation of “Moses could not enter” (Ex. 40:35):  Rabbi Hama bar Haninah said:  Is it conceivable that Moses was afraid of the cloud?  Has it not been said, “Moses went inside the cloud” (Ex. 24:18)?  This indicates that the cloud split apart for him and he walked in it as a person walks along a path.  But what do we learn from Scripture saying, “could not”?  We learn that he paid respect to the Divine Presence and did not enter until the Holy One, blessed be He, called him, as it is said, “He called to Moses” (Lev. 1:1).

To sum up, while Moses did not enter the cloud, according to the homily in Sifra, later sources are of the opinion that Moses refrained from entering either out of fear or out of respect, but that in the end he entered after the Lord called to him.[3] As we said, the tannaitic homily in Sifra leaves some open questions, which leads us to ask why they chose such a course.  We suggest that these tannaim wished to emphasize the distance between G‑d and man.  According to their perception, direct encounter with the Divine Presence is not possible, and whoever attempts to draw nigh will suffer injury.  A similar notion also emerges from the homily of the tanna Rabbi Jose ben Halafta (of the Usha generation), dealing with the question of whether the Lord descended on Mount Sinai.

“The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai” (Ex. 19:20)…Rabbi Jose says:  Behold, it says, “The Heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He gave over to man” (Ps. 115:16).  Neither Moses nor Elijah ever went up to heaven, nor did the Glory ever come down to earth…(Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate de-be-Hodesh, ch. 4, Horowitz-Rabin ed., p. 216).

It has been suggested that the polemic with Christianity explains Rabbi Jose ben Halafta’s stand.  While Christianity sought to connect the heavenly with the human, Rabbi Jose sought to create a barrier between them.[4] This separation seems also to explain the homily in Sifra, according to which Moses did not enter the Tent of Meeting as long as the cloud was resting on it.[5] Opposing this stance were some Sages who actually perceived the encounter between G‑d and man favorably.  This is illustrated by the following amoraic source, which takes issue with the position set forth by Rabbi Jose ben Halafta in the Mekhilta:

Rabbi Abba bar Yodan said:  [This may be compared] to a king who was marrying off his daughter and decreed on the sea, saying:  The people of Rome shall not go down to Syria, and the people of Syria shall not go up to Rome.  Once he had married off his daughter, he rescinded the decrees.  Thus, until the Torah was given, “The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He gave over to man” (Ps. 115:16), however once the Torah had been given from heaven, “Moses went up to G‑d” (Ex. 19:3) and “the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai” (Ex. 19:20; Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, 12, Mandelbaum ed., p. 212).

According to Rabbi Abba bar Yodan, the heavens were distanced from the earth until the Theophany at Mount Sinai, but afterwards the barrier was breached.  Thus, it was also possible for Moses to enter the Tabernacle while the cloud still rested upon it, as described above in the homilies in Tanhuma and Midrash ha-Gadol.  The Sages who ascribed to the view that there is a meeting of the heavenly and the earthly were not prepared to distance the Lord from the world on account of the polemic with Christianity.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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