This week’s Torah Portion, B’haalot’cha, contains a description of the famous pillar of fire and pillar of cloud which led the people of Israel through the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land.
“On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Pact; and in the evening it rested over the Tabernacle in the likeness of fire until morning.” (Numbers 9:15)
Wait a minute! Were there two pillars or just one? “A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night,” or just one pillar that encompassed them both? An earlier passage from the Torah may shed some light on this question. When the Children of Israel were fleeing from Egypt it says:
“The pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it illumined the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night.” (Exodus 14:19–20)
In this case, we seem to be faced with a pillar of cloud that operated like a pillar of fire, illuminating the night. Rashi, in his commentary, insists that the pillar of cloud remained during the night only this one time – at all other times each pillar had its distinct function.
However, if there was only one pillar – fire surrounded by cloud – then all this makes much better sense. During the day, we see the pillar of cloud, and during the night, the light of the fire shines through. And, there is a lesson on our relationship with God. The pillar is a symbol of God’s presence in our lives, in light and in darkness God is with us through it all.