The beginning of the Book of Bamidbar brings us to God’s communion with Moses at the opening of the Tent of Meeting. Through out their station in the Wilderness God communes with the Jewish People through this very specific conduit.
The conservative proportions of this communion in the seclusion of a Tent (of Meeting) intrigued the Sages of the Land of Israel and has generated much exegesis. Why does God not aggrandize His Revelation by holding it in an open area and with dramatic scenery as He does when the He gives us the Torah?
Yannai, the 6th century Poet of the Land of Israel versified on the Torah Portion of Bamidbar:
“The God of Glory which dwells in concealment; Your words of Glory you have spoken – although not in concealment. Lest dissenters say that something was changed; You have changed your Glory which is [usually] in concealment”
God gives His People the Torah in public view for everyone to see and witness lest dissenters ever have the chance to distort and question God’s word. If everyone were to hear God’s words themselves they would not be controverted so readily.
Yannai, however, consumed by his national conscience limits the implications of the Revelation to the Jewish People and expounds on its meaning for them and them alone. However, the Sages thought the ostentation to be for the nations of the world. According to the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ismael God wished to teach the nations of His Unity and dis-spell any notions that different gods came to the aid of the Jewish People throughout their history (Hodesh #5, pg. 220).
The public display was the product of necessity and had a constructive purpose. The norm is modesty not ostentation. Yannai drives this point home when he continues his verse:
“Your approach to speak the words of the Pleasant Nation; You spoke all the Glory of the Glorified ones inwards. He spoke from the Tent concealing work to guide kingship with walking in concealment.”
Yannai refers here to the Tent of Meeting when he speaks of “inwardness”. The reason that God communed with the Jewish People from a mere tent, in concealment rather than in the open, with ostentation and drama is not metaphysical (at least not solely), but didactic – to teach the Jewish People the importance of modesty as the mainstay of one’s behavior and character.
In an effort to set an example for the Jewish People God so to speak lives by His own example. We witness how important the moral and ethical standing of the Jewish People is in the Universal plane as well as God’s role as mentor and educator of the Jewish People.
Modesty has cosmic and metaphysical importance!