After the Tabernacle is fully assembled, God descends upon it in a cloud of glory:
The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of Hashem filled the Mishkan. Exodus 40:34
The Hebrew word for ‘glory,’ kavod (כָּבוֹד), is perhaps more precisely translated as impressiveness, magnificence, and honor, derived from the root verb kaveid, כָּבֵד, meaning heavy or honored. The word kavod appears 24 times in the first five books of the Bible. The six times when the word kavod is used in reference to humans, it refers to an impressive display of wealth, political power, or religious rank (Genesis 31:1, Genesis 45:13, Exodus 28:2, Exodus 28:40, Numbers 24:11, and Genesis 49:6). In eighteen instances, the word is used when humans behold the kavod of God (Exodus 16:7, 16:10, 24:11, 24:16, 29:43, 33:18, 33:22, 40:34. 40:35; Leviticus 9:6, 9:23; Numbers 14:10, 14:21, 14:22,16:19, 17:7, 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:21). In seven of those cases, the kavod of God appears as a cloud, or fire, or both (Exodus 16:10, Exodus 24:16-17, Exodus 40:34-35, Numbers 17:7, Leviticus 9:6, 9:23, Deuteronomy 5:21).
This cloud of glory did not only serve a purpose in the Tabernacle. It also acted as a guide through the desert, only disappearing 40 years later when the Israelites reached the Jordan River.
When the cloud lifted from the Mishkan, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys…For over the Mishkan a cloud of Hashem rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Yisrael throughout their journeys. Exodus 40:36-38
The Israel Bible explains:
The pillars of cloud and fire that accompanied the nation upon their exodus from Egypt now reposition themselves by hovering above the Mishkan at its completion. This manifestation of God’s presence accompanies the Jews throughout their travels in the desert, reminding them that He continuously dwells in their midst. Similarly, when the Beit Hamikdash is built by King Shlomo, God’s glory fills the Temple in the form of a cloud (I Kings 8:10-11), and a fire comes down from heaven (II Chronicles 7:1). Again, His presence among the people is manifest, this time in the holy city of Yerushalayim.
God appears in a pillar of cloud on the east bank of the Jordan only once, when Moses takes his successor, Joshua, into the Tent of Meeting (Deuteronomy 31:14-15). God’s kavod as a cloud of glory does not appear again until the dedication ceremony after King Solomon has finished building the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:10-11).
The Midrash states that there were seven clouds: “Four on the four sides, one above and one below, and one that went before them. Whatever was low, it raised, and whatever was high, it lowered… And it would strike snakes and scorpions, and sweep and sprinkle before them.”
It is interesting to note that in the Talmud (Sukkot 11b), Rabbi Eliezer states a tradition that in the desert, the children of Israel dwelled in booths that were made from the clouds of glory. This is hinted at by the Prophet Isaiah:
Hashem will create over the whole shrine and meeting place of Mount Tzion cloud by day and smoke with a glow of flaming fire by night. Indeed, over all the glory shall hang a canopy, which shall serve as a pavilion for shade from heat by day and as a shelter for protection against drenching rain. Isaiah 4:5-6
The clouds of glory were a direct manifestation of God’s presence, and His protection and care for His children. While we don’t have the clouds of glory to serve as a physical reminder of God’s involvement in our lives and His divine shelter, we know that He continues to watch over us and protect us as He did with our ancestors in the desert.