The most ambitious construction project was complete and the Mishkan – the portable desert sanctuary – was established according to Hashem’s instruction. So we would expect a triumphant climax to the people’s efforts as the Shechinah fills Hashem’s magnificent earthly abode. And yet sefer Shemot closes with what appears to be the greatest anti-climax for all those involved especially for Moshe who managed the entire project. As we read, ‘And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and Hashem’s glory filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and Hashem’s glory filled the Mishkan.’ (Shemot 40:34-35)
Imagine having expended all that effort to create a space in this world worthy of the Shechinah and then being excluded from it. It would appear that there cannot be an earthly interface between an Infinite G-d and finite human. How deflating it must have been to have to stand at a distance admiring their combined handiwork but being unable to experience a sense of closeness with Hashem.
It is reminiscent of Moshe’s earlier request, “Hashem, please show me Your glory” which was a desire to understand His ways, to answer the question of how Hashem, who is vaster than the universe, can live within the universe in a comprehensible way, not just in the form of miraculous intervention. On that occasion Hashem responds by saying, ‘No living person can see My face’ as we do not have the capacity to grasp the answer.
These two combined, force us to ask: What is the point? Why invest so much time and resources only to be denied access to the end product? Why do we even attempt to create a place for Hashem in our world if ultimately we’re being told that we cannot perceive Him anyway?
The key to understanding this is provided by Rashbam who explains that this all-encompassing cloud only appeared at the very moment that the Mishkan was first established in order to make known Hashem’s nature. Eventually, Hashem would constrict Himself so to speak, to dwell in a defined area space.
In other words, at that specific moment, Hashem was conveying a powerful and eternal message to us that He will completely fill any space that we create for Him. Whether that is in a Mishkan, in our homes or in our hearts, wherever we make space for Hashem in our lives that is where we will most fully feel His presence.