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I'VE SEEN FIRE AND I'VE SEEN RAIN

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"On the day that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan, and then in the evening, there appeared something like a fire on the Mishkan and remained there until morning. This is the way it remained. . ."(Numbers 9:15-16).

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"On the day that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan, and then in the evening, there appeared something like a fire on the Mishkan and remained there until morning. This is the way it remained. . ."(Numbers 9:15-16).

The verse evokes images of a pyrotechnic's delight, but what does it really mean? Taken literally, the Torah is informing us that during the day a cloud rested on top of the Mishkan. The verse continues to describe a blaze, a fiery inferno, which settled upon the Mishkan at night. What is going on here? What do a cloud and a fire really represent?

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, a great Torah author and thinker in Israel who passed away in 1978, attempts to tackle this perplexing enigma. Amidst the reversal of fortunes that we face in life we notice a circular scheme some days we are lucky and other days we are not. When someone is at the height of success and the light of the day shines brightly upon him, he must realize that he is still susceptible to the waves of misfortune. That, explains Rabbi Zevin, is what the cloud high atop the Mishkan is supposed to remind us. It is during the daylight hours, when things appear bright, that Hashem gives us this reminder of the cloud to help us remember that we are not permanently immune to gloomy times. Conversely, the fire represents a ray of hope. It is at night, during the darkest hour, when the fire shined atop the Mishkan. When things seem dark and discouraging, the fire reminds us to be optimistic and look at the bright side of things.

This lesson is mirrored in the fundamental Shema prayer which we recite twice a day in the morning and at night. When things are bright or when a situation looks bleak we must remember the words of that prayer "Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one." No matter what the scenario, Hashem remains present to grant us success and give us the strength to overcome adversity. It is this symbolic interpretation of the cloud and fire above the Mishkan which should serve as a guide to viewing all aspects of life.

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is editor of Torah from Dixie.

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