Parshas Vayelech - Shabbos Shuva 5759

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 Shem Tov and his disciples, we find 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 B'nai Yisrael be expected to survive if Hashem removed his providence?" The Baal Shem Tov 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 His 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 was ever able to achieve before.

'Hester Panim' is really only an illusion. The grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, 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 a hiding place for the King. Would his sons come to seek him?

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. In essence, every wall represented a deeper level of love which he hoped his son would come to.

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 Toldos, R' Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye, says that they are the stray and alien thoughts that enter a persons 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 a 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 to 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; now he is able to engage in the battle to which he has dedicated his life. Is the purpose of 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 at this point 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 last seven days of Elul correspond to each of the seven days in the week. Each day can amend for all the previous days of its kind from the outgoing year. The message: It is never too late to rededicate your way of life to the Torah.

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 just illusory, no more than that!

Yes, Hashem sometimes hides, but His intention is like the child in a game of hide- and-go-seek, he is waiting, anticipating and hoping that we will come and search for Him.

A Guten Shabbos!

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The Minhagim of Chodesh Elul and Tishrei have been updated. Come and see!

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