Sometimes the way ahead seems uncertain, and we wish we had a clear sign of our best path forward. We want a sign from God. This week’s portion (Pekudei), the closing of the Book of Exodus, recalls that our ancestors wandering the desert from Egypt had those very signs to guide them – and so do we.
When Moses and the Israelites finished building the Tabernacle and set within it all its ritual implements – the Tablets, the Ark of the Covenant, the menorah, the altar and washing bowl,
“[T]he cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle…. When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until it did lift. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of God rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in view of all the house of Israel in all their journeys” (Ex. 40:34-38).
Our desert ancestors always saw physical signs – a cloud by day and a fire by night – to guide their path forward. The portion makes clear that this sign was visible not only to Moses but also to everyone (“in view of all the house of Israel”) all of the time (“in all their journeys”). Thus we learn that everyone was guided at every moment and had direct, personal access to a guiding vision.
That was then, but what vision and guidance are accessible for us now? Perhaps most often, there is a hidden hand of God, known in secular language as “coincidence” or “serendipity.” We may not see it literally with our eyes, but we can see it with an inner vision. I can think of many occasions in my life when I uttered a wish or a prayer, and within a short period of time met a person who had the answer to the prayer (though maybe not in the form, or the result, that I expected). Sometimes I have received a message by a stranger or a friend, and it has turned out to be the answer to a question I haven’t yet asked. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner expressed it this way (from “Puzzles” 1977):
Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with nearly a completed puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.
But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
all the pieces were there.
Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don’t.
And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High.
As for our ancestors in the desert, the Most High continues to send signs and wonders. Instead of a “cloud by day and fire by night,” you yourself may be the beacon, the message, the piece of the jigsaw puzzle, that someone else has been needing. Your relative, neighbor or friend, or a complete stranger you encounter, may be your missing link. Allow your inner vision to see, and to be seen, with the intention of the path ahead becoming clear in all your journeys.
May we be blessed to know that we too are receivers of guidance, and to know that often we are the giver through whom the Divine is sending someone else a message.