Hide and Go Seek
(adapted from Sefer HaMayan HaNitzchi)
Hashem said to Moshe, "When you go to lie 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 God 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)
The Chizkuni and others say that Hashem's hiding
of the face, known as 'Hester Panim', is a sign of love;
Hashem doesn't want to see his beloved people being punished.
The Rambam says that this verse implies a withdrawal of
divine providence. Nevertheless, in the thought of the Baal
ShemTov and his disciples, we find a totally different approach
to the idea of 'Hester Panim'.
The Baal ShemTov 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 B'nai Yisrael be expected to survive if Hashem
removed his providence?" The Baal ShemTov answered
his own question with a remarkable insight into Avodas
Hashem (divine service).
In reality there is no such thing as 'Hester Panim'. It
is only an illusion, the objective of which is to examine us on
how we relate to the hiding. Do we continue to seek Him out, or
do we give up searching for Hashem the moment that His
presence is no longer obvious. The one who strives to the utmost
of his ability to search out Hashem, is rewarded in the
end with a greater closeness than he ever before was able to achieve.
'Hester Panim' is really only an illusion. The grandson
of the Baal ShemTov,
R' Ephraim Chaim, 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 love. So 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 really a trick,
an optical illusion. The walls created for the King a hiding place;
would his sons come to seek.
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 could not
be possible that his father would create between them such a division.
It must then be just a trick to test him. Every wall represented
a deeper level of love which he hoped his son would have.
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.
But we still must ask, what is the nature of these partitions and
why do they prevent a person from coming closer to his Creator?
The Toldos, Reb 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 cool off,
to dampening his enthusiasm in his divine service. A weak-hearted
or shallow person imagines that since these thoughts are creeping
in to disturb him, they are sign that Hashem 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 Hashem.
One with deeper perception understands that even these thoughts
are from a holy and pure source since there is no place devoid
of Hashem. A small amount of effort at pushing the stray
thoughts out of the way, allows the light of Hashem to
begin pierce through, enlightening the darkness, and clearing
up his confusion.
R' Sheur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba'al HaTanya, explains
that strange thoughts like these are actually a reason for simcha.
The Oved Hashem (one dedicated to serving Hashem)
is like a soldier intensively trained and prepared for battle
(with the Yetzer Hara), but there is no enemy to fight. The moment
some strange thoughts creep in he rejoices, since now he is able
to engage in the battle to which he has dedicated his life. 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
God is not with me that all these terrible things have befallen
us"? And on that day I will surely hide my face. .
It is asked, since B'nai Yisrael have clearly humbled themselves
by saying, "Is it not because God 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 Hashem to reveal Himself and not to hide?
The Holy 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 Hashem is not with them,
yet they still don't search Him out. 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 days of Elul, the above message is particularly
extant. Elul is the time for making spiritual amends in
preparation for the New Year. The service of Rosh HaShanah
though is different. On Rosh Hashanah we declare that Hashem
is our King and that we are His people. We reaffirm this relationship
every year on Rosh HaShanah. All the obstacles which prevent
us from understanding that the King is really nearby, are illusory.
Yes, Hashem sometimes hides, but he is waiting, anticipating
and hoping that we will come and search for Him.
A Guten Shabbos
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