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G-d's hiding of His face is actually a sign of love

Hide and Go Seek

Hide and Go Seek

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Hide and Go Seek
G-d's hiding of His face is actually a sign of love

"G‑d said to Moses, "When you go to lay with your ancestors, this nation shall rise up and stray after the alien gods of the land into which they are coming. They will thus abandon me and violate the covenant that I have made with them. I will then show my anger against them and abandon them. I will hide my face from them, and they will be their enemies' prey. Harried by evils and troubles, they will say, 'Is it not because G‑d is not with me that all these terrible things have befallen us'? And on that day I will surely hide my face on account of their corruption in turning towards alien gods." (Deut. 31:16-18) G‑d can't bear to see His beloved people being punished…

The Chizkuni, among others, says that G‑d's hiding of His face, known as "Hester Panim", is actually a sign of love; G‑d can't bear to see his beloved people being punished. The Rambam says that this verse implies a withdrawal of divine providence. Nevertheless, the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, advance a totally different approach to the idea of "Hester Panim".

The Baal Shem Tov asks, "How is it possible that our Father, the Merciful One, would want to turn away from His beloved children and to make Himself as if He didn't wish to see them? And how would the Jewish People be expected to survive if G‑d removed his providence?" The Baal Shem Tov's answer is a remarkable insight into divine service:

In reality there is no such thing as "Hester Panim". It is only an illusion, the objective of which is to examine how we relate to G‑d's "hiding". Do we continue to seek Him out, or do we give up searching for G‑d the moment His presence is no longer obvious? The one who continues to strive to the utmost of his ability to search for G‑d is rewarded in the end with a greater closeness than he was ever able to achieve.

"Hester Panim" is really only an illusion. The grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Ephraim Chayim, known as the "Degel" after the name of his seminal work, Degel Machane Ephraim ("The Flag of the Camp of Ephraim"), explained "Hester Panim" with a parable: A King wanted to test his sons, to see which of them really loved him with a true and absolute love. He arranged to have walls constructed all around his palace, walls of wind, walls of fire and moats full of water. But the walls were in reality a deception, an optical illusion. The walls created in essence a hiding place for the King. Would his sons come to seek him? He understood that it just could not be possible that his father would create such a division between them…

Only one son, who had a great desire to enter the palace to be with his father, was smart enough to discern that the walls barring his entry were only an illusion. He understood that it just could not be possible that his father would create such a division between them and reasoned correctly that it must be a trick to test him. He understood that in essence, each wall represented a deeper level of love between him and his father.

Another son, more foolish than the first, perceived the walls only as obstacles and turned back, believing that the King his father had indeed abandoned him.

What then is the nature of these partitions and why do they prevent a person from coming closer to his Creator? The Toldot, Rabbi Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye, says that they are the stray and alien thoughts that enter a person's mind when he is learning, praying or engaged in some other mitzvah. They are thoughts that distract him and cause him to dampen his enthusiasm for divine service. A weak-hearted or shallow person imagines that since these thoughts are creeping in to disturb him, they are a sign that G‑d doesn't desire his service and wants no part of him. So he cools off and eventually desists in his efforts to grow closer to G‑d.

One with deeper perception understands that even these thoughts originate from a holy and pure source since there is no place devoid of G‑d. A small amount of effort at pushing the stray thoughts out of the way, allows the light of G‑d to begin to pierce through; enlightening the darkness, and clearing up his confusion. A spiritually sensitive person will find in the physical aspects of the holiday the gateway to achieving greater closeness
with G‑d…

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya, explains that these strange thoughts are actually a reason to rejoice. One dedicated to serving G‑d is like a soldier intensively trained and prepared for battle (against the Evil Inclination), but with no enemy to fight. The moment some strange thoughts creep in, he rejoices; now he is able to engage in the battle to which he has dedicated his life. this is the purpose of his being.

It is now possible to answer a question that many commentators ask on the verse above. The verse states, "Is it not because G‑d is not with me that all these terrible things have befallen us? And on that day I will surely hide my face…".

Seemingly, the Jewish People have humbled themselves by asking, "Is it not because G‑d is not with me that all these terrible things have befallen us?" Why are they then summarily punished with "Hester Panim"? Isn't this a more appropriate time for G‑d to reveal Himself instead of hiding?

Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch provides an answer: The ones to whom our verse is referring are like the foolish son in the parable above. They recognize that G‑d is not with them, yet they still don't search for Him. They are required to understand that the "Hester Panim"is only an illusion. Could it be possible that the Father would really hide Himself from his children and not want to be found? Since they are not seeking and not searching, it shows that being in the presence of the Father is not important to them. The result: "Hester Panim".

During these last week before Rosh HaShanah, the message is particularly extant. In each of the last seven days before Rosh HaShanah one is able to do teshuva and make a tikun for every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. of the previous year. (From Avodat Yisrael, by the Maggid of Kozhnitz)

Sometimes, the preparations for the holiday mask the holiness that lies within. Yet all of the physical manifestations; the food, the new clothing, the four species and the Sukka, draw down holiness according to our ability to let it in. A spiritually sensitive person will find in the physical aspects of the holiday the gateway to achieving greater closeness with G‑d.

Yes, G‑d sometimes hides, and in every manner of hiding place. His intention though can be understood by simply watching a child play a game of hide-and-go-seek. He hides, but He is hoping for and anticipating that sweetest of all moments - when He is found.

[Based on HaMayan HaNitzchi
First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Netzavim 5760]

Binyomin Adilman is the former head of the Nishmas Chayim Yeshivah in Jerusalem. Back issues of his weekly Parsha sheet B’Oholei Tzadikim, from which this article was taken, may be found on www.nishmas.org.
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