Moments of Fire: A Drash by Joshua Nathanson

ed note-During Shabbat services recently, Josh Nathanson offered this d’var Torah on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. His message presents us with the eternal question-what are our “moments of fire” and what are our “cloud moments”. What are yours?

Parashat Pekudei talks about the building of the tabernacle, a portable sanctuary used by the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt.  It explains in detail how the tabernacle was built and the materials used to build it.  In the end of the parashah, we read that “the cloud of the eternal rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night.”  The Israelites would not set out on their various journeys until the cloud lifted.  Why was there was a cloud over the tabernacle and why was there fire in it?

Throughout the Torah, God’s presence is often represented to the people in the form of a cloud and fire.

It was God who led the Israelites through the desert wilderness, and we are told in Exodus 13:21 and 22 that “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people.”

When Moses goes to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, we again read about the cloud and fire of God in Exodus 24:16 and 17.  This time the cloud covers the mountain, and fire appears on its top.  The text says: “And Moses went up into the mount, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.  And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.”

There is also of course the story of the burning bush during which God speaks to Moses the first time. (Exodus 3:1-15)  Since the presence of fire and clouds in the Torah is repeatedly associated with the presence of God, there must be an importance to this association.

The Etz Hayim Humash sees the fire and the cloud as two ways of relating to God.  Since the fire has more of a definite form, it symbolizes the times in our lives when our connection to God is more definite.  Some examples of “fire moments” in our lives are birth, death, and marriage.  Another example of a fire moment is having your bar or bat-mitzvah.  Most of the time, though, people are not experiencing moments of fire.

The majority of time in our lives can be considered “cloud moments”- cloud moments make up our everyday life.  They are the ordinary daily encounters that we have.  For example, going to school or work every day are cloud moments.  The famous Jewish commentator, Abravanel, adds to the Etz Hayim interpretation.  He writes: “Both the cloud and the fire were continually there, but the cloud was visible during the day; and at night, when it was too dark to see the cloud, the fire was visible.”  Perhaps the Torah is bringing the two symbols of the fire and the cloud together to teach us that we should feel connected to God all of the time; not just during the awesome “fire moments.”

In my life, I feel connected to God when I pray, when I learn, and whenever I perform mitzvot.  I have also learned to feel connected to God every morning when I wake up because of all the privileges that I have and that many other people do not. When I feel like I am being the best possible person I can be, whether I succeed or not in what I am trying to do, I feel the most connected to God. I hope that we will take this lesson from parshat pekudei to heart and we will work to establish these relationships with God not just during the special moments of our lives, but during the everyday ones as well.



Filed under Heartfelt Judaism

2 responses to “Moments of Fire: A Drash by Joshua Nathanson

  1. Greg Kaidanov

    Dear Yoshua,
    Yasher Koah to you for the very thoughtfull and inspiring d’var Torah.
    Mazel Tov with your Bar Mitzvah.

  2. Bob Braitman

    When I read this drash I immediately thought of a moment of fire, while it happened over four years ago, inspires me to this day.

    I was part of the Conservative/Masorti Movement delegation to the World Zionist Congress in 2006 and was honored to lead the Shacharit davening at the Wall (the egalitarian portion around the corner, but that’s another story) for the leaders of our Movement.

    Davening at the wall itself is a moment of fire but knowing the leaders of our Movement from around the globe, men and women who care passionately about Masorti Judaism were standing with me as I chanted, “V’haveinu l’shalom me arba canfot haaretz, v’tolechenu kommeut l’artzenu..Bring us back in peace from the four corners of the earth…, that indeed was a Moment of Fire, and as I say the Shema and it’s blessings to this day, that moment of fire is recalled and renewed.
    Thanks for the inspiration Josh!

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