The term, u’chvode Hashem, is found twice in the context of the mishkan: “The cloud covered the Communion Tent, and Hashem’s glory (u’chvode Hashem) filled the Tabernacle. Moshe could not come into the Communion Tent, since the cloud (anan) had rested on it, and Hashem’s glory (u’chvode Hashem) filled the Tabernacle.” (Shemot 40:34-35)
In his Aramaic translation of our pasukim, Onkelos renders u’chvode Hashem as, vi’kara d’Hashem (and the honor of Hashem), reminiscent of the celebrated verse in Megillat Esther, “And the Jews had light and happiness and gladness and honor — l’yehudim hayitah orah v’simchah v’sasone vi’kar.”
What does u’chvode Hashem mean? Was it a mystical feeling engendered by being in proximity to the Almighty’s Presence, or something else entirely? While Rashi is silent regarding the meaning of u’chvode Hashem in our pasukim, his brief gloss on Sefer Bamidbar 14:10, one of the five other pasukim containing this expression in Tanach, identifies u’chvode Hashem with the anan. In contrast, the Rambam in his philosophic magnum opus, Guide for the Perplexed, interprets our expression as “the created light (ha’or sh’nivra) that is designated as kavode in every passage [in Tanach] and that filled the tabernacle.”
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, known as, the Kli Yakar, embraces the Rambam’s approach in his examination of our pasuk: “It appears from this verse that kavode Hashem is not the same thing as ‘the anan.’ Rather, the fire and the light, that is, kavode Hashem, was visible from the midst of the anan, for without the cloud it would have been impossible to gaze upon it. For if a person cannot look directly at the light of the sun, all the more so is it the case regarding the splendorous light of His Shechinah, may He be blessed. Therefore, this holy light was visible solely from inside the cloud.”
We now have two ways of defining the nature of kavode Hashem: According to Rashi, it refers to the anan, whereas both the Rambam and the Kli Yakar associate it with some kind of Divine light.
These explications bring us closer to a more profound understanding of one of the most celebrated pasukim in our tefilot: “And one [of the Seraphim] called to the other and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory (m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo)’.” (Sefer Yeshayahu 6:3)
May the time come soon, and in our days, when the entire Jewish people, and all humankind, will gaze upon the splendorous light of the Shechinah, and join the Seraphim in recognizing m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo. V’chane yihi ratzon.