On their first night of freedom, the Israelites saw a cloud from the ground up that was between them and the Egyptian army. God’s Presence. Shechinah. Kavod. Light flooded the night from inside the cloud. The Israelites slept peacefully though the Egyptian army was only a short ride way.
vayehi he’anan vehachōshek vaya’er et-halailah, וַיְהִי הֶעָנָן וְהַחֹשֶׁךְ וַיָּאֶר אֶת־הַלָּיְלָה, “and the was the cloud and the darkness, but it lit up the night.” The sentence continues, “so that one could not come near the other all through the night.”
What does the saying about the cloud mean? Perhaps it cast darkness on the side where the Egyptians were and light on the Israelite side. The JPS offers a translation based on a slight change in the verb “lit up,” so that the new reading is “Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night.”
Whatever the exact meaning may be, the Presence of Adonai manifested in the strange cloud of darkness and light protected Israel all through the first night of freedom. God comes near to us and does not remain simply above the fray. Yes, God is beyond knowing, the Infinite, the Without End. But the narratives of the Hebrew Bible show him coming down to us again and again.
When it became apparent, many centuries after Moses, that the man Yeshua had been all along a manifestation of God’s Presence in human form, this was not an unheard of action on God’s part. It was an extension, a new level of drawing near and becoming visible and comprehensible to us.