Parashat Vayelech: The concealed face of God – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 10, 2021

This weeks parasha is one of the last parashot in the Torah. It describes the last preparations before the death of Moses, and the passing of the torch to his student Yehoshua bin Nun, who would later lead the nation to settling the Holy Land.

God calls to Moses and Yehoshua to enter Ohel Moed (the Tent of Congregation), the Mishkan, and there He conveys to Moses a gloomy forecast of what the future holds for the Jewish nation in the coming years a forecast that came true in its entirety. According to this forecast, the Jewish nation will worship other deities and breach its covenant with God. In response, God will conceal His face from His people:

And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them and many evils and troubles will befall them; and they will say on that day, Is it not because our God is no longer in my midst, that these evils have befallen me? And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed (Deuteronomy 31:17)

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The term is fundamental in Jewish religious philosophy. When we believe in one God, and believe He has a relationship with His creations, we actually believe God is entirely good. We cannot accept evil and suffering from God, even if the person deserves it. Indeed, these verses describe the punishment that happens when God hides His face and temporarily looks away, allowing for chance to afflict the person being punished.

This sense, that there is no evil that stems from God but only because He conceals His face, has accompanied the Jewish people throughout the most difficult hardships.

But sometimes, for the faithful, this experience of God hiding His face and not being present in the suffering he is enduring, is unbearable. Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz (1914-1997) was a Holocaust survivor who worked to save thousands of Jews from bring sent to extermination camps. At the end of his life, he wrote a book called Binat Nevonim where he describes the Holocaust from the perspective of a believing Jew. He writes as follows:

Though we knew this was all from God despite this, in our hearts, we could not accept this. We could accept Gods decree, but we could not make peace with the feeling that He hid His face from us, and that He does not want to know whats happening to us; as though after He handed us over to our enemies, He turned His back to us, without looking at what these enemies are doing to us. (Binat Nevonim, pages 131-133)

He found a solution to this difficult experience in the words of the Talmud: And I will hide My face on that day, the Holy One, Blessed be He said. Even though I hid my face from them His hand is outstretched over us, as it is stated: And I have covered you in the shadow of My hand. (Isaiah 51:16) (Tractate Chagiga 5:2)

When a person doesnt want someone else to see him, he has two options: to cover his own face and turn his head away, or to extend his hand out to cover the others face so he wont be able to see him. When we read that God might hide His face, we imagine it like a person turning away and ignoring what he sees, or covering his own face with his hand. But the sages of the Talmud say, based on what is written in the book of Isaiah, that hester panim should be compared to a person covering his friends face so the friend cant see him, even though he is still present and can totally see his friend. If so, when someone is suffering, it is not that God is hidden or has disappeared. He is completely present, but temporarily, the person cannot experience His good and compassionate presence.

We hope for a good year, one in which our lives are full of Gods beneficent presence. With that, we still need to remember that even during the times of suffering and sorrow we have endured, God is with us, even if we cannot sense it, as was written by Rabbi Nachman of Breslev:

Even during a concealment within a concealment, Hashem, may He be blessed, is certainly there. Behind all the difficult, confusing, challenging things that stand before you (Hashem says:) I stand. (Likutei Moharan 56:3)

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.

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Parashat Vayelech: The concealed face of God - The Jerusalem Post

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