Immediately after the Mishkan was erected, a cloud descended to rest on it, showing the Presence of Hashem in the Mishkan, guiding klal Yisrael from in their midst. The people encamped around the Mishkan—it was their center. The cloud was the shepherd staff through which Hashem pointed His flock where and when to go.
We are told that this guidance was unpredictable. There were times when the people stayed in one place for a long period; at other times, they remained at rest for just a few days. Some of their rests lasted one night, and some a whole month, or even a year.
The Ramban explains that since they never had advance notice, whenever the cloud gave the signal, they would have to make all the arrangements for an extended stay, yet knowing that any moment they might have to pack up and follow its movement into the desert.
This is the lesson of the journey through the midbar. We learned to trust Hashem’s instructions, no matter how incomprehensible they seemed to us. At times He instructs us to leave what we have just begun to love, and at times He asks us to stay in an undesirable situation—but nevertheless, we accept whatever He commands.
But closer consideration reveals that it was not the strain of long journeys but the patient waiting in one place that was the real test. Nothing is said of the duration of the journeys, but prolonged waiting is mentioned several times. We are told, three pesukim in a row, that they journeyed forth only after the cloud lifted, traveling or not traveling according to the cloud.
Clearly, particular stress is placed on klal Yisrael’s endurance and patience. This is understandable, considering the inhospitality of the midbar, and the fact that the people, not yet condemned to forty years of wandering, were fully aware that every stop they made in the wilderness was only keeping them from their promised destination. Through their wandering and following, the people acquired the quiet, serene resignation and trusting patience that they would carry with them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness of nations over so many centuries of galus.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Director, Ani Maamin Foundation
Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.