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Cloud

by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis
Hebrew anan. As visible heavenly objects, clouds are often associated with supernatural phenomena. God rides upon the clouds (Ps. 104:3). When God becomes manifest on earth, clouds obscure what is happening (Ex. 19-21; Job 22:13; Ex. 19; Lev. 16:2). Angels too manifest themselves as cloud, most famously the pillar of cloud that guided the Children of Israel during the day on the Exodus (Ex. 13:21, 14:19-24).

According to Rabbinic tradition, a cloud is a sign of the Shekhina, the feminine Divine Presence (Gen. R. 1:6; 1:10). Such clouds hovered over the tents of the matriarchs (Gen. R. 60:16). Clouds (called by the Sages "clouds of glory") not only led the Israelites, but actually transported them, surrounding them on all sides and protecting them from the harsh desert environment (Mekhilta Bo 14; Pesik. R. 20; Targum Shir haShirim). These clouds had supernal letters written on them, serving as banners for each tribe. A pillar of cloud became manifest over the altar on Yom Kippur, and its appearance was an augury of the future (Yoma 21b). The presence of these clouds diminished and eventually disappeared due to the accreted sins of Israel. Bar Nifli, "son of a cloud," is a title for the Messiah, who will appear riding one, following the Book of Daniel.

Article copyright 2004 Geoffrey Dennis.


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