The fire and the cloud symbolize the boundaries of approaching closeness to G-d. The cloud covers and hides while the fire lights and heats
We planned, we gathered money and materials, we acted, and we established. That is it; we completed the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). Now what is left is to see if it will be successful for us? Will G-d want to reside in it?
The Torah picks two ways to mark G-d's presence and His picking the Mishkan. The first is the cloud. As The Book of Shmot (Exodus) ends, in Chapter 40, there is a celebratory description of how the cloud covers the Tent of Meeting and G-d's glory fills the Mishkan. The sign of G-d's responsiveness; His agreement to dwell in our midst is repeated in the Book of Kings when the Holy Temple is dedicated and in the description of the setting up of the Tabernacle in the Book of the Chronicles.
The second way G-d's presence is seen is through the fire that descends from heaven and eats up the sacrifice. This amazing sign is described when the dedication of the Tabernacle is completed in chapter 9 of the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra). This sign is missing in the description of the dedication of the Temple in the Book of Kings, but is again described in the Book of the Chronicles.
The fire and the cloud represent the close presence of G-d. The cloud covers and hides while the fire lights and heats. These two signs mark the boundaries of how close we can get to G-d. The believer needs to scrutinize himself vis-a-vis G-d and look for his place. There are those who decide to constantly move closer to Him to speak with Him and feel Him. The closeness can create dependence and contentment and is dangerous. There are those who choose to distance themselves from all gratification staying abstract and distant. Here too exists a problem; the danger of disengaging and estrangement. The believer needs to constantly be moving from closeness to distance and to return again and get closer to G-d while examining and deciding for himself the correct distance for him to be from G-d.
Dr. Noach Hayut is the Executive Director of the Yaacov Herzog Center and the Chair of Panim