From Behind a Cloud
The Book of Exodus ends on a note of triumph. The liberation from Egypt was followed by the giving of Torah and the building and dedication of the Tabernacle. God forgives the Israelites for their sin with the golden calf — and, in the closing lines of the book, God’s presence, in the form of a cloud, comes to rest upon the Tabernacle. Nahmanides, in his closing comment on this, the second book of the Torah, gives it the title: the book of redemption.
Bahya ben Asher (13th Cent., Spain) goes further and explains that the settling of God’s presence among the Israelites was but a foretaste of the future:
“If, at the first redemption we loved our King, whose sweet loving is better than wine, and Who appeared to us in His glory by the vision of our eyes, through the screen of a cloud” will it not be, in time to come, that God shall be realized to us even more?— His glory, eye to eye, with no screen between us nor cloud to be seen, as the prophet says: ” Hark! Your watchmen raise their voice, as they shout for joy; for every eye shall behold the Lord’s return to Zion.1 (Isaiah 52:8)”
Bahya’s message seems discordant after Purim — the holiday that features a book in which God is not just screened off, but fails to appear at all. Many Jews are Megillah Jews, that is, they believe that redemption is a human process, coming when people make it come, as Esther and Mordechai did. God is hidden or absent. This is also the ideology of secular Zionism. Yet, there are also Jews who are Haggadah JewsÐthey understand redemption as the Haggadah does — a process that began with God’s saving the Israelites from Egypt and will culminate in the ultimate salvation of their descendants in messianic times.
On closer examination, though, one can, and indeed should, be both a Megillah Jew and a Haggadah Jew. Looking forward to a divine redemption at the end of days does not exclude taking practical steps today for the benefit of Jews and Judaism. Emphasizing the need for human action, and learning to live in a world where God has no visible presence, does not exclude hope for a time when the screen will rise, the cloud will lift, and God will be far nearer even than in days of old.
The publication and distribution of “A Taste of Torah” commentary have been made possible by a generous gift from Sam and Marilee Susi.