This parsha discusses how the Jews moved through the desert after Sinai. During the day there would be a huge cloud over the camp. In the night since you can’t see a cloud there would be a light that appeared like a fire within the cloud. When they travelled the Jews would follow this cloud, stopping where it stopped and going where it went.
Sometimes, they were moving along and they seemed to find a terrific place to camp but the cloud didn’t stop so they didn’t. Sometimes, the cloud stopped at places that were not so nice, with bitter waters and so on, but G-d wanted them there, so there they stayed. Sometimes, there seemed to be a great place to stay just up the road but the cloud stopped and so they stayed there.
They had no way of knowing how long they were to stay. Sometimes the cloud would only stay a day, sometimes for a year. They didn’t know if they could unpack, maybe by the time they unpacked the cloud would decide to move again. It is said that they only unpacked their bags on the third day, but even then the cloud sometimes moved just as they were finished unpacking and everything had to be repacked. They could never tell if they were just parking, staying overnight, or in for a long haul.
To handle this our ancestors had to develop a trust in G-d, to believe that wherever he sent them that is where they were supposed to be. Our sages tell us that this was to prepare all future generations for their wanderings, to give them strength for exile and the accompanying travails.
Who would believe that the Jews would leave Poland, sometimes referred to by the rabbis who lived there as Po Lin, here we stay. The Gaon of Vilna often made a resolution to move the land of Israel so he could keep the mitzvahs of the land, but always a problem would arise, schedules would get changed, or a tornado would land and destroy the boat. He accepted that G-d wanted him where he was. Also the Chofetz Chaim planned to go to Israel but never could. They accepted this with the strength we inherited from our ancestors, who followed the cloud, to follow with faith wherever G-d leads us.