Pekudei–No Room for Self

When Moses finished the work, the cloud covered the tent of meeting . . . . Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Yhwh filled the tabernacle.  40:33b-35

The images here are exuberant: God’s presence as a cloud (‘anan) and as luminosity (kavod, ” glory”).   The cloud settles (shachan) over the mishkan (“abode,” “tabernacle”); both words share the same root as Shekhinah, a favorite Jewish evocation of the presence of God.

So full, so expansive is this cloud that there is no room for anything or anyone else.  Even Moses can’t go in.   The Baal Shem Tov once said that there is no room for God in a person too full of self.  Here the converse applies, and there is no room for self in a place so full of God.

But of course, Moses does eventually enter, so we assume the cloud contracts.  Here, as in Jewish mysticism, God’s self-limitation is what makes room for the other, for creation, for relationships.  As we read two weeks ago, the midrash has God say that, out of love, “I will come down and confine my Shechinah within a square yard.”

That the cloud fills every corner of the mishkan is a reminder that, as the Yiddish phrase has it, “altz iz Gott,” all is God.  But not until God pulls back and makes room will the dialogue with Moses proceed and the narrative move forward.

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