The Torah Text
Exodus begins with the crumbling status and safety of the Israelites in Egypt. A once-honored family turns into an enslaved nation. By the end of the book of Exodus, the newly liberated Israelites embrace a new covenant with God, and build a new structure where God may dwell among them, a symbol of labor used in holy ways for holy ends.
Exodus 40:33-35 tells us that ” when Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of God filled the Mishkan. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the God filled the Tabernacle.”
Abraham ibn Ezra seeks to understand what the text means when it says Moses could not enter the space where he is supposed to talk to God.
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
ולא יכול משה. אז קראו השם שיכנס אל אהל והיה מדבר עם השם פנים אל פנים במקום שהיה נכנם כהן גדול פעם אחת בשנה עם ענן הקטורת כי משה בן בית הוא. והוצרכתי לומר ככה כי משה שם הלוחות בארון ושם הכפורת ששם הכרובים על הארון ועליהם תמיד הכבוד
Exodus 40:35 AND MOSES WAS NOT ABLE TO ENTER. Then God called Moses and told him to enter the tent. Moses used to speak with God face to face in the place where the high priest entered once a year with a cloud of incense, because Moses was, as it were, a member of the house. I was forced to say this because Moses put the tablets in the ark. He similarly placed over the ark the covering with the cherubim on top. God’s glory was always upon them. (Translation Strickman and Silver)
Reflections for the Path
Ibn Ezra struggles with the fact that Moses regular speaks to God in the Tent of Meeting, and encounters God in spaces that we are told elsewhere even the High Priest could only enter once a year. Ibn Ezra solves the problem of Moses “not being able” yet needing to enter the Tent by saying that God called him in, implying if Moses hadn’t been called, even he wouldn’t have been able to enter.
But then Ibn Ezra concedes that Moses has a special relationship with God and can encounter God in ways others cannot. Moses is, as it were, a member of God’s household, with the privileges of intimate and informal access that other guests do not have.
Are you aware of the people, spaces, and actions that you have easy access to that other people may not? How do you use those privileges, if so? Are there ways you can support those who do not have access, the way Moses uses his connection with God to lead and nourish the Israelites?
For my exploration of the Rashbam’s take on this issue, read my post here.