Head in the Clouds – Parshat Beha’alotcha 5784

Do you ever see shapes in the clouds? Despite the persistent gray for a significant portion of the year, the Pacific Northwest has an incredible variety of weather conditions, including cloud formations. We often see the vibrant colors of the trees against a gloomy (or my favorite, “doomy”) background. Some days there’s so much fog we can barely see ahead of us, but other days the clouds are moving quite quickly as though on a mission to get somewhere before we make it to our own destination.

It’s easy to get lost in sky-gazing. Watching clouds puts me at peace. Finding shapes and watching their movements grounds me between the heavens and the earth. Having your “head in the clouds” is usually associated with the impractical or unimportant, but to me, it’s those contemplative moments of feeling at one with nature that are more important now than ever. This concept of cloud-watching, in a literal sense, is central to our Torah reading this week as well.

Our parshah this week, Beha’alotcha, lands us with Aaron and Moses as they get into the daily requirements of their jobs. This section of the text begins with instructions for the purification of the Levites as they do their holy work in the Tabernacle. We read about the first Passover sacrifice in the wilderness and how to make up the celebration of Passover if we somehow miss the holiday. Finally, Moses’s family – his father-in-law, wife, and children – return to join him and the rest of the Israelite nation on their journey through the wilderness.

The magic in Beha’alotekha comes as the order to march is given. When the Torah talks of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, it teaches us that God’s presence hovers over it in a cloud. The narrative suggests that the cloud symbolizes God ascending and descending upon the camp, and this cloud would determine the movement of the march as well as when and where to make and break camp. Cloud up, time to move; cloud down, time to rest.

If it feels like a struggle to find God today, you’re not alone. However, I’d argue that even if we’re not necessarily on the move like the Israelites, couldn’t the clouds still serve the purpose they did in the Torah? Their ever-changing shapes remind us to look up and pay attention to the world and to nature. Their movement across the sky reminds us to be open to change. Their rain and fog and mist remind us of our water cycle and connect us to our past and future. These are perhaps a few ways we can still be aware of God’s presence.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: Head in the Clouds – Parshat Beha’alotcha 5784