Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. — Numbers 9:17
The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16, and the Haftorah is from Zechariah 2:14–4:7.
As we continue in the book of Numbers this week, we learn more about life for the children of Israel as they traveled through the desert. The Jewish sages explain that the Israelites’ journey through the desert is symbolic of our journey through life. Along the way, the children of Israel experienced many divine miracles, as do we. But as we will learn, there are different types of kindnesses that we receive, and we must be grateful for them all.
One miracle the Israelites experienced while in the desert was the Well of Miriam – a supernatural well of water that followed them wherever they went, providing life-giving water for drinking and washing. Another gift from God was manna, the food that fell from heaven each day, providing every family with the exact amount of sustenance that they needed. These two divine benefits represent God’s daily providence – He gives us our basic necessities day in and day out in order to sustain us on our journey.
However, there was another kind of supernatural assistance that the Israelites received in the desert. God provided a Cloud of Glory to accompany the Israelites on their journey. When the cloud lifted up, the Israelites would travel. When it rested, the Israelites encamped. In addition, the sages teach that the cloud surrounded the Israelites on all sides, protecting them from the elements — snow, rain, sun, and wind. It also paved the way, so to speak, flattening the land beneath the Israelites and even killing off scorpions and snakes along the way. The Cloud of Glory was given purely to make the journey easier.
Interestingly, while the children of Israel complained about both the manna and the water during their time in the desert, they never once complained about the Cloud of Glory. This is because while the food and water were necessities that the Israelites could not live without, the Cloud of Glory was a pure gift from God. When it came to their actual needs, the Israelites had plenty to say — it’s not good enough, it’s not enough, and so on. But how could they complain about the Cloud of Glory? That was given to them as an unnecessary gift, a gift of love.
Friends, we are also given our own Clouds of Glory in our journey through life. God gives us so many things that we don’t need — things that give us comfort and joy. From the colors and textures of the food we eat, to the miracles of modern-day technology, we have so many gifts of love. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). Amen!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President