כי ענן ד’ על המשכן יומם ואש תהי’ לילה בו לעיניכל בית ישראל בכל מסעיהם
For the cloud of God would be on the Tabernacle by day, and [His] fire would be in it by night, before the eyes of all of the House of Israel, in all their travels.
The parting verse of the Book of Shemos, tells of Hashem’s constant presence in the Tabernacle, via His cloud by day, and fire by night, throughout the travels of the Israelites. There is, however, one slight problem with the Torah’s record of this phenomenon: While the verse seems to indicate that the cloud and fire were present in the Tabernacle during the actual travels of the Israelites, we learn a verse earlier that when the time came to travel, the cloud actually lifted off of the Tabernacle, and did not return to its original resting position until the Israelites arrived at their destination.
In an attempt to reconcile this discrepancy, Rashi explains that the words “in their travels” can be a used as a reference to the stops between travels as well, and that this is the intent of our verse.
The question, however, lingers: Why didn’t the Torah simply state that the cloud and fire resided in the Tabernacle during the period when it was stationary, and avoid the problematic words of “in their travels” altogether?
Perhaps the answer is that the Torah intentionally used the misleading terminology to allude to an additional intent hidden in the words “before the eyes of all of the House of Israel, in all their travels”. Wherever the travels of destiny shall take the Jewish nation, the Torah means to imply, the Heavenly presence will manifest itself in one of two ways: Either as a cloud during periods of sunshine, or as a fire during periods of darkness.
As we travel through the pages of history, there are two reasons why God’s presence is sometimes difficult to discern: During periods of clarity and tranquility, His Presence seems unnecessary, and during times of darkness and confusion, His presence seems improbable.
During the former, the Torah is telling us, we must search for a Godly presence which manifests itself in a cloud. Only the cloudiness and lack of clarity we can discern even within the environment which purports to provide just that, can force us to realize that, first impressions notwithstanding, only God has to offer that true clarity, so blindingly bright that even the darkest of clouds cannot possibly obscure.
During times of darkness and confusion, on the other hand, we can only discern God by searching for that ember of truth and lucidity which somehow burns even as Herculean powers of darkness seek to obscure its lone flame, doggedly hanging on to its fire even as it is surrounded by a world gone insane.
If we are taken in by the “light” of the “enlightened” world, and turn a blind eye to the cloud-covered holes in its “blue and clear” skies, we will never find God. If we are fooled by the darkness surrounding us on all sides, however, we will likewise fail to discern that flaming Godly fire which keeps a cold and dark world just warm and bright enough to be livable.
We must see the true light in the darkness, even as we observe only darkness where there is purported to be light.