Where Was God?
In the thick dark cloud? That doesn’t seem like Him.
Moses the revered leader of Israel – the guy whom God is constantly guiding, giving him advice and giving him the strength to continue to lead the people – this same Moses is exhausted.
We are in the Torah portion called Jethro (Exodus 18-20).
Moses is busy listening to people’s problems from morning to evening, day after day. And the one who notices the irrationality in this daily routine is Jethro, his father-in-law (Tzipora’s father). This shows that each of us needs to have a human by our side with eyes open, able to “feel” where we are at. Even the “big” people who seem like they don’t need it, actually do. Jethro sees Moshe working non-stop to serve the people, and he warns him.
”Both you and these people with you will surely wear yourselves out. It is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:18)
And he suggests that Moses find others who can help take the burden, which will also help make the “access to management” more efficient.
”Find among the people capable men who fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness…” (Exodus 18:21)
Jethro proposes to Moses to choose the right individuals, who will help him lead the people. Jethro understands that Moses must delegate authority and responsibility to people of honesty and integrity, of strength and the fear of the Lord. Moses needs a team he can trust that will work with him. The goal is on the one hand to allow the people to get the satisfaction of a response from their leaders, and at the same time to give their leader room to breathe.
Common sense advice
Here Moses’ humility is again demonstrated. He understands that Jethro’s advice is right and good – both for him and for the people. He understands that he is exhausted and that he cannot continue like this for long. He is free of vanity and ego. He is humble.
This enables both him and the people to behave properly. He hears the recommendations of his father-in-law Jethro and implements them immediately. When this is accomplished, Moses suddenly is available to devote himself to important spiritual matters, because the people are continuing their journey. They reach the foot of Mount Sinai, and are met by the sound of trumpets and the sight of smoke. The people tremble. They are commanded to stay put and Moses to go up the mountain.
”Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain; And the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.” (Exodus 19:20)
Can you see the beauty in this verse?
God comes down, and Moses goes up. God and Moses meet midway between heaven and earth. God does not expect Moses to do all the work to get to Him. God Himself comes halfway down. How wonderfully encouraging to learn from Moses that we are never alone. We are not required to do everything on our own. We are only required to do our best to reach the top. We are required to be proactive. And while we are climbing up, one will be coming down to meet us. And in this place where we can’t go on any longer, at the end of ourselves we meet God. And when we have this attitude, motion and faith – connected with God – even the thick dark cloud no longer poses a threat.
”So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21)
It says God was there in the place where he could not see clearly.
Thick dark clouds and fog are usually considered a threatening situation. And the thought that God is there in an unclear, threatening situation is the opposite of what we are used to thinking. We are used to seeing God in the good, benevolent, bright, smiling things. We are used to thinking of God being in the well-lit places.
And suddenly God is in the mist.
In the unknown.
Where we can’t see much.
Who wants to be in the fog? After all, things there are not clear. But whether we like it or not, the metaphorical fog is a part of our lives. There are moments when nothing seems clear to us. We try to feel our way in the dark, apprehensive, not knowing how to proceed. And the beauty of this Torah portion is the sublime understanding that even there, in the obscurity, where the path seems to disappear, when suddenly everything familiar looks and feels different, even there we are not alone. God is there. He will guide us and light the way.
What a beautiful thing it is to find Moses approaching the dark cloudy mist without hesitation. Moses understands that in this fog there is a voice for him. There is a truth hidden there, because Moses is a man of listening. By listening to the divine voice he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. And he steps into the mystery on the mountain to listen to God. He is not looking for an escape route, he is not looking for an easy path. He knows that in the hidden, unclear and challenging place – if the heart is open and full of faith, then even there, something is waiting for him.
Moses knows only in part. He agrees not to understand. He agrees to surrender. And in these moments of devotion, in the silence, he hears the voice and he meets the unforgettable. He gets to see what we all wish for ourselves. Sometimes this is the only choice we have – to walk straight into the fog. Life constantly presents us with challenges and issues. In these moments that may seem threatening and vague, we must remember:
When we enter, trusting, even into the unknown, it might at first be vague and dark. But as faith grows, doubt diminishes. The picture becomes clearer. The fog dissipates. Then we enjoy moments of clearly knowing that we are never ever alone.
That’s where God was.
Read more Israel Today commentaries on the Weekly Torah Portions