When the "When the Tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up” Numbers 1:51
How did the Levites know when to take down the Tabernacle and when to put it up? Rashi cites an ancient midrashic tradition that the great cloud that protecting the encampment would move, thus signalling the time when the campsite was to be dismantled and move. In other words, we followed a cloud.
A cloud is a vaporous, elusive material that can be seen only in its full shape when standing outside of it. It is an amorphous, moving, constantly dynamic element of nature. It hardly seems like the kind of stable compass that would get us through 40 years of a wilderness trek.
Yet what Bemidbar emphasises is precisely that which brings stability to an ever-changing landscape; the census, the placement of the tribes around the Tabernacle, the role of the Levites, the flags demarcating each tribe. Every time they stopped, the same Levites would reconstruct the camp with the same building instructions each time. Each member of a tribe would know where to pitch his tent.
Wilderness is an ultimate metaphor for any leadership challenge; it contains precisely the dialectic tensions that are present in every initiative for change and every innovation. There must be stable parts which anchor experience and create control, and there must be variables that change and challenge us with their very newness to advance and progress.
Our wilderness trek was a long stop-and-start venture into the unknown, balanced by the well-known. Having the Tabernacle as the spiritual heart of the camp created the stability to explore the uncertainties of the future.