28.2. Moses Pitches the Tent of the Meeting Outside the Camp (33:7-11)

 (7) Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp.

(8) Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent.

(9) And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses.

(10) When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent.

(11) The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

(7) Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting: Since the Almighty has made it known that He would no longer go in the midst of the people, Moses takes measures to preserve the Divine presence by setting up the Tent of Meeting outside the camp.

At some distance from the camp: Not near the camp, i.e., immediately outside it, but at some distance from the camp, emphasizing God’s separation from the people.

It was called the Tent of Meeting: The name ohel moed, the “Tent of Meeting,” was later applied to the Tabernacle, the portable Temple, which was built five and a half months later (see 27:21) (at that point there was no longer any need for this Tent that Moses had set up far from the camp).

And whoever sought the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp: In order to meet God, a person must demonstrate independence of character: He must go beyond the limits of the camp in search of the Almighty. Not all people are capable of this; only relatively few can “seek the Lord.”

(8) Whenever Moses went out to the Tent: Moses moved the Tent of Meeting outside the camp, but he continued to live inside the camp.

All the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent: The rest of the people, even if they are themselves not able to go out to the Tent of Meeting, demonstrate their involvement in Moses’ dialogue with God. The words of the Lord that Moses brings back to the people are important to everyone – there are no “disinterested parties” in the camp. All this shows that the people have been corrected and have advanced. Moses sees this as a justification for turning to God with an additional request (see below, v. 12).

(9) And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses: The pillar of cloud is a visible sign of the Divine Presence. The Tent of Meeting was a “Mount Sinai in miniature,” and there Moses continued to receive Revelation.

(10) When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent: Thanks to these actions by Moses, the people’s connection with God is strengthened.

(11) The Lord would speak to Moses face to face: Although the Lord speaks with Moses face to face, Moses cannot see God’s face. (“God said, ‘you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live’,” 33:20).

Hearing and seeing are fundamentally different things. Hearing always involves two subjects. One who hears another person seeks to comprehend what his interlocutor wants to tell him. But when a person sees, he perceives and analyzes the situation himself. He is the sole subject; everything else is only an object.

To “see God” means to understand the meaning of everything that happens in the universe. But this level of understanding is inaccessible to man. Man can only “hear God.”

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face: That is, Moses accurately hears and correctly understands what God tells him. But all other prophets perceived God in the manner of a dream; thus, Moses’ prophecy carries much more weight than any other prophecy.

As one man speaks to another: As with a friend, and not as with a lord or a master. For all other prophets God acts as master. He issues an edict or sends a prophecy, and man only hears.

But here, “as one man speaks to another” means that there is two-way communication. Besides listening to God’s word, Moses also has the right to have his own opinion heard, as it were. This is an inconceivably sublime level of spiritual development that only Moses was able to achieve.

And he would then return to the camp: Moses returns to the the camp daily, in order not to lose touch with the people, and to prevent a recurrence of what happened when he was removed from the people during his long stay on the mountain. In a sense, Moses’ receiving Divine revelation through the Tent of Meeting was a correction for the negative “side effects” caused by his receiving Revelation on the mountain.

But his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent: The Hebrew word na’ar, “a youth,” refers not to age, but to a person’s stage of development. And specifically, to a student’s self-awareness with respect to his teacher.

Would not stir out of the Tent: Earlier, Moses’ disciple, Joshua the son of Nun, waited for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. And now he is constantly at the Tent of Meeting, to which “whoever sought the Lord” would come. Joshua’s constant search for God gradually elevated him from military leader to national leader.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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