ESSAY: Cloud Cover
In the desert we were afforded both protection and glory
Four and the Same
What the wicked can learn from the pious, and the pious
can learn from the wicked
Everything is subject to the laws of gravity, except for those
things that are not subject to the laws of gravity
Summer is here, and parents all over are readying their children
for overnight camps. Suitcases are lovingly being packed with
sufficient clothing and accessories to last through the summer,
not to mention backpacks filled to the brim with assorted
goodies and drinks. No parent would think of sending off their
child without attending to all these details, ensuring the
child's health, comfort and safety.
For forty years, the Jewish people wandered in the desert,
yet suffered no lack of food or comfort. The Manna fell daily,
satisfying all their nutritional needs. They had sufficient
to drink, thanks to a rock that traveled with them, which
flowed with fresh, sweet water. Additionally, the camp was
surrounded on six sides by clouds of glory, to assure their
physical safety in the treacherous wilderness.
Immediately following the death of Miriam, Moshe's sister,
the rock suddenly stopped providing water, so that there was
nothing for the people to drink. Rashi infers from this that for forty years, the well flowed
in honor of Miriam,
and in fact, it is referred to by the sages as "Miriam's
the clouds of glory vanished after the death of Aharon, leading
to the conclusion that during his lifetime, the clouds appeared
thanks to him. By the same token, the Manna fell in honor of
Moshe, and ceased after his death.
After Miriam's death, the well was restored in the merit
of Moshe, as detailed at length in the Torah portion of Chukat.
Yet there is no evidence in the Torah that the clouds of glory
returned after the death of Aharon. Furthermore, the Jewish
people complained vociferously about the lack of water,
yet there is no mention of any disturbance on account of the
missing clouds. Why were they not equally distraught over
the loss of their source of protection and comfort in the
One answer to this dilemma could be that after Aharon's passing,
they no longer needed the protection of the clouds. The clouds
that surrounded the camp actually fulfilled a four-fold purpose:
1) to protect the Jewish people from the searing desert sun. 2) To keep their clothing fresh
and free of wrinkles.
3) To lead the way through the desert. 4) To assure a safe and comfortable
journey, by flattening mountains and raising up valleys, and
killing serpents and scorpions in their path.
At the time of Aharon's death, the Jewish people were nearly
at the end of their wanderings in the desert. Thus, many of
the objectives served by the clouds were no longer necessary.
Aharon's soul ascended to heaven on Hor Hahor, a mountain
on the outskirts of the desert, on the border of the land
of Edom. The heat of the desert was less intense at its outer perimeter,
close to occupied land. Also, Aharon passed away on the first
of Av. The power of the sun peaks on the 15th of Av, and
from that point on the weather grows progressively cooler. Since they had enjoyed the cloud's protection
up until Aharon's passing on the first of Av, it is possible
that the air retained its coolness, and they no longer needed
the weather regulation provided by the clouds.
As they approached inhabited territory, the Jewish people
also had less need for the "laundering service"
provided by the clouds. They could have easily purchased new
garments from any of the established settlements. Also, they
no longer needed the clouds as guides to show the way, as
they already were in a settled area with carved roads and
pathways. Finally, the snakes and scorpions that posed such
a grave danger in the heart of the desert were far less of
a threat on its outer edges.
However, in truth it is difficult to argue that the clouds
were no longer needed after Aharon's passing, for a number
of reasons. The clouds lead the way not merely to prevent
the Jewish people from getting lost in the desert. The purpose,
rather, was to point out the direction that G-d wished them
to take at each particular juncture. Since they took quite a number
of journeys after the death of Aharon, it is obvious that
they still needed the guidance of the clouds of glory. The
clouds, in addition to pointing out the direction, also indicated
when and for how long the Jewish people would camp at any
given location. When the clouds stopped, the people would
stop and set up camp in that place, and remain there until
the clouds would again signal that it was time to move on. The Jewish people would rely on this instruction until they
entered the land of Israel.
Rashi states explicitly that after Aharon's death, the Jewish
people traveled seven journeys in reverse - deeper
into the desert. Thus, it is obvious that the
advantages of being on the outskirts of the desert, in terms
of less severe weather and safer roads, did not necessarily
The clouds also protected the Jews from wars with hostile
nations. When the Amalekites instigated a war against the
Jews, they were commanded to "Go out and wage war with
Rashi comments: "Go out from the clouds to fight them".
As long as the Jews were enveloped in the protection of the
clouds of glory, it was impossible for any nation to attack
them. The clouds absorbed any missiles or arrows lobbed by
enemies from outside.
The need for this protection did not abate noticeably after
the death of Aharon.
A final, and most compelling proof that the clouds did, indeed,
return after Aharon's death is a verse in the Torah itself.
After Aharon's passing, there was an incident in which some
Jews sinned by cohabiting with Midianite women. The sinners
were identified when the cloud covering the camp peeled itself
back over their heads, and the sun scorched them.
Thus the Torah indicates that the cloud cover reappeared after
the death of Aharon.
We are therefore left with the original question: Why is
there no mention in the Torah about the clouds of glory reappearing,
and why did their disappearance not engender any protest by
A close analysis of the references to the clouds in Rashi's
commentary reveals a slight inconsistency: In certain contexts,
he refers to "clouds of glory", while in other contexts, he refers to them
simply as "clouds".
In the Midrash, too, the clouds are at times referred to as
"clouds of glory" and other times only as "clouds".
We can therefore explain that there actually were two
types of clouds that accompanied the Jewish people on their
travels through the desert. There were certain clouds whose
purpose was solely for the glory of the Jewish people. The
presence of these clouds was a testimony to the distinguished
stature of the Jews people, and their cherished status in
the eyes of G-d. These clouds did not serve any of the utilitarian
functions described previously. Other, "ordinary"
clouds carried out the services that were necessary for the
survival of the Jewish people in the desert. Indeed, in all
the places where Rashi refers to the functions of the
clouds, the simple term "cloud" is used.
One place where Rashi uses the term "Clouds of Glory"
is in reference to clothing: "The Clouds of Glory
would wash their clothes and iron them; also, the clothes
of the children grew along with them." It would seem,
then, that the term "Clouds of Glory" was
used by Rashi to refer to the more pragmatic functions of
the clouds. However, this service was not an essential one
for their survival; the Jews could have easily washed their
own clothes or replaced their worn out garments, using wool
from the sheep that they took with them from Egypt. The fact
that the Clouds of Glory kept their clothes fresh is an indication
of special honor; not a requirement for existence, but an
extra, additional mark of divine favor.
After Aharon's death, the "Clouds of Glory" went
away, and did not return. The other clouds, which the Jewish
people depended on for survival, remained with them for the
duration of their journeys through the desert.
When the well ceased flowing after Miriam's death, it was
restored in honor of Moshe. Why, then, did the Clouds of Glory
not return in the merit of Moshe? To answer this question,
it is important to understand the distinction between the
roles of Aharon and Miriam, and the role of Moshe.
Aharon and Miriam were distinguished and beloved role models
and teachers of the Jewish people. They were such outstanding
individuals, that G-d graced the Jewish people with special
favors in their merit. Moshe, on the other hand, was the "faithful
shepherd" of the nation. He looked after the needs of
his people just like a loving parent sending a child off on
a journey. To him, it was not important in whose merit the
Manna, the well and the clouds were granted. These were his
people's survival needs, and it was his job to guarantee that
they be provided. He made sure that his people would be taken
care of even after his death. Even after Moshe's passing,
the Jewish people suffered no lack of food or comfort. The Clouds of Glory were not
an essential survival need, and thus it was not necessary
for Moshe to ensure their return.
In every generation, the Jewish people have been graced with
leaders who demonstrated Moshe's absolute and unceasing devotion.
Even after their passing, the "shepherd does not desert
and their influence and care continue to be felt. These leaders
do not merely cast a benign eye from above, and use their
supernal influence on behalf of their people. Rather, even
in the earthly realm, we continue to appreciate their profound
love and concern, through the ongoing effects of the deeds
and activities that they initiated in their lifetime.
A scintillating example of a "faithful shepherd"
in our era is the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph
I. Schneersohn. He demonstrated extreme self-sacrifice to
keep Judaism alive in the Soviet Union, in the throes of the
communistic regime. He displayed great heroism, and kept the
chain of Jewish tradition from being sundered. Today, three
generations later, we are reaping the fruits of his efforts,
as Russian Jewry experiences an unimaginable renaissance and
Note: Although the Rebbe concluded his talk, in 1979,
with a reference to the Previous Rebbe, his father-in-law,
the prescience and inescapable relevance of his words are
impossible to miss. It is now seven years since the 3rd
of Tammuz, 5754, when physically, the Rebbe's presence was
hidden from our eyes. Yet despite the loss, the heartbreak
and the yearning, it grows more obvious with each passing
day that the Rebbe has not left us. The shepherd has not left
his flock; his influence continues to guide us, and his radiance
continues to shine over all our endeavors. The Rebbe's sole
mission and purpose, as he expressed it, was to prepare the
entire world for the coming of Moshiach. He has infused us
with his strength of purpose, and he continues to guide us,
to implore and exhort from every one of us, to do our part.
No need of ours is as overwhelming and pressing as our need
for Moshiach; and our faithful shepherd would not let this
need go unfulfilled.
Based on addresses of the Rebbe, Motzei Shabbat Matot-Masei,
Parshat Dvarim, and 15 Av, 5739 (1979)
and the Same
There are four types of contributors to charity. One who
wants to give but does not want others to giveis begrudging
of others. One who wants that others should give but does
not want to givebegrudges himself. One who wants to
give and wants that others should giveis a chassid
(pious individual). One who wants neither himself nor others
to giveis a rasha (wicked individual).
There are four types among those who attend the study
hall. One who goes but does nothinghas gained the rewards
of going. One who does [study] but does not go to the study
hallhas gained the rewards of doing. One who goes and
doesis a chassid. One who neither goes
nor doesis a rasha.
Ethics of the Fathers, 5:13-14
A close reading of the above two mishnayot leads to
the amazing conclusion that one who neither gives nor allows
others to give is one of the four types of contributors
to charity, and that one who neither goes to a center
of Torah study nor does any studying on his own is counted
among those who attend the study hall!
In truth, however, even the least practicing Jew is, in essence,
a contributor to charity and a student of Torah. In the words
of Maimonides, every Jew wishes to be of Israel and
wishes to observe all of the commandments and to avoid all
of the transgressions of the Torah. It is only that his evil
inclination has overpowered him.
The four types of contributors to charity differ only in
their behaviorin the extent to which their quintessential
will is realized in their daily lives. The four classes of
Torah students differ only in the extent to which their intrinsic
knowledge and commitment is reflected in their conscious pursuit
of the divine wisdom. At the core of his soul, however, the
wicked individual is as caring of his fellow man
and as aware of his bond with G-d as the chassid, the
pious man who gives and causes others to give, attends the
study hall and studies the Torah.
The reverse is also true: there is a sense in which the pious
chassid is synonymous with the callous and ignorant
rasha. Just as the rasha is one who has yet
to bring to light his quintessential desire and knowledge,
so, too, is the most accomplished philanthropist and scholar.
For no matter how much a person has done to aid his fellow
man, no matter what heights he has attained in his understanding
of Torah, he has not begun to actualize his true potential.
The soul of man is a spark of G-dliness, and its
capacity to better the world in which it lives and to comprehend
the divine is infinite. Thus, the chassid and the rasha
are equally distant from their ultimate goala self and
world that reflect the infinite perfection of their Creator.
Based on an address by the Rebbe Av 20, 5747 (August 15,
When a mind conceives and comprehends a concept... the
mind grasps the concept and encompasses it. At the same time,
the mind is enveloped by the concept, even as it grasps it
and holds it within itself...
Thus, when a person knows and grasps in his mind a ruling
of halacha from the Talmud or latter halachic works, he thereby
grasps and holds and encompasses with his mind the Divine
wisdom and will... while his mind is simultaneously enveloped
within them. This makes for a wonderful union, like which
there is none other, and which has no parallel anywhere in
the material world---they [the mind and the concept] attain
a complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, ch. V
One of the keenest minds in the history of Jewish learning
was Rabbi Shabbtai HaKohen (The Shach,'' 1622-1663),
author of the Siftei Kohen commentary on The Code of Jewish
It is said of Rabbi Shabbtai that when he would immerse himself
in the profundities of talmudic law, the world would cease
to exist. Late at night he would be seen strolling the rooftops
of Cracow, oblivious to all but the arguments and counter-arguments
coursing through his mighty mind. Once, he was seen to walk
off the edge of a roof, across several yards of moonlit air,
and on to the neighboring rooftop---without noticing a thing.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, in relating this incident
at a chassidic gathering, remarked: Do you think that
this was a miracle? Not at all. There was nothing supernatural
about the Shach's mid-air walk. Rabbi Shabbtai thought not
only with his brain, but with every fiber of his being; when
he engaged his intellect, he was intellect. And intellect,
of course, is not subject to earth's gravitational pull.
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 ibid, Mechilta Bshalach 16:35
 Chukat 20:2 and further
 Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim Ch. 625, Yeshaya
 Rashi Behaalotecha 10:34
 Chukat 20:23, Massei 33:37
 Behaalotecha 9:17 and further, Pekudai 40:36 and
 Emor 23,43, Chukat 20:29, 21:1, Pinchas 26:13,
Masei 33:40, Ekev 8:4, 10:6
 Bshalach 17:9, Chukat 25:4, Behaalotecha 10:34
and other places
 Tanchuma, Bshalach 3, Bamidbar 12, Tosefta Sota
4:1, and more.
 Mechilta Bshalach 13:21, "there were seven
clouds". Sifri Behaalotecha 10:34, Tanchuma Bamidbar
2, Zohar III, 302
 see footnotes above.
 Although the well no longer flowed, they were
already at the banks of the Jordan River, which kept them
well supplied with water. The Manna also stopped falling,
but they had sufficient Manna in reserves to keep them supplied
for another fourteen years, until the land was fully settled.
 The words of the Previous Rebbe, in reference
to his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the 5th Lubavitcher
Rebbe, in a letter marking the first anniversary of his
father's passing. Published in Sefer Chachmei Yisroel,
NY 5684 (1924), 33:1
 Note that this was over ten years before the fall
of communism and the subsequent rebirth of active Judaism
in the USSR.
 On the 12th of Tammuz, we celebrate
the birthday of the Previous Rebbe. It also marks the anniversary
of his liberation from communist imprisonment.
 Likuttei Sichot XVIII, pp 253-261
. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce, 2:20.