Sefer Shemot, the book of the Torah where we become the nation of Israel, ends with the building of the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle). As the final parshah, Pikudei, draws to a close, we learn that Hashem covered the Mishkan with His cloud of glory and filled it with His presence (Shemot 40:35). Hashem directed the Jewish people’s travels in the desert through the cloud.
When it lifted, the Jewish people were to travel. When it did not, they were to remain encamped. The Torah teaches that the Jewish people saw Hashem’s cloud by day and His pillar of fire by night throughout their time in the desert. (Shemot 40:36-38).
The conclusion of the Book of Shemot teaches us a critical lesson. Hashem is with the Jewish people throughout our travels. When we were in the desert, this was clear to all. But even in times of trouble, as the rabbis teach, “the Divine presence is [with us] in the exile.” Though we may not always perceive Hashem’s direct hand in our national or personal lives, we know that He is always in control. He always accompanies us.
This lesson is also at the core of the Purim story, which we will read in about two weeks. Megillat Esther is the only book in the Tanach that does not include Hashem’s name. The story takes place in the depths of exile. The Jewish people appear powerless and are in imminent danger of annihilation by the wicked Haman and the willing King Ahasuerus. But Hashem does not abandon His People.
The name of Queen Esther hints to the Hebrew word hester, which means hidden. At times in our history, Hashem chooses to hide Himself. This does not mean He is not with us. In reality, He is “pulling the strings” of history. This is precisely what happens in the Purim story. All seems lost. But Hashem acts directly in our history. He arranges for Esther to become Queen. He arranges for Mordechai to save King Ahasuerus’ life, and for the king to learn about Mordechai’s actions on a night where he cannot sleep. He makes sure that the King allows Esther to defy protocol and to enter the King’s chamber without being invited.
Hashem is the one who ensures that Esther reveals Haman’s plot, and that Ahasuerus executes him and then gives us permission to defend ourselves. And, in the end, Hashem gives the Jewish people the strength to kill those who attack them on Haman’s appointed day. In short, even though Hashem’s name is not in the Megillah, all of this could only have happened by virtue of His divine guidance. Even in exile, His presence was with us.
And though we remained in exile even after this miracle, we had the strength to persevere. Eventually, some of us even had the merit to return to the Land of Israel to build the Second Temple and to usher in the era of the Second Jewish Commonwealth.
We are fortunate to live in the era of the Third Jewish Commonwealth, the State of Israel. Though we have not yet merited to the Mashiach and the Third Temple, we have merited to see Hashem again acting in our history, performing miracles before our very eyes. Though we do not have His cloud of glory or pillar of fire, we see that He is with us in our travels.
Hashem was with us in His Mishkan and His Temple. And He is with us now and forever.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a past member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of rabbijablon.com .