“I will Hide My Countenance from Them” (Devarim 32:20)
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Parashat Haazinu is the only parashah where most of the text is written in a poetic manner. In this song, Moses speaks mostly of the future, but without forgetting the present and past. He warns his people, guides them and advises them, just before he passes the mantle to Joshua, after Moses’ many years of leadership.
In this opportunity, I would like to focus on one verse from this parashah:
“The Lord said: I will hide My countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end. For they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them.” (Devarim 32:20)
What does it mean that God will hide His face?
How often, in times of misfortune, does the classic question once again arise, of where God is, in times of pain, destruction and injustice!
Much has been said and devised regarding this theological dilemma. On the subject, the well-known philosopher Martin Buber poses in his book, “Eclipse of God”:
“Eclipse of the light of heaven, eclipse of God – such indeed is the character of the historic hour through which the world is passing. But it is not a process which can be adequately accounted for by instancing the changes that have taken place in man’s spirit. An eclipse of the sun is something that occurs between the sun and our eyes, not in the sun itself.”
Unlike many contemporary philosophers, who proclaim God’s death, Buber maintains that, in our era, God appears to our eyes in the manner of an eclipse. “The eclipse occurs between the sun and our eyes, and not in the divine essence.”
Perhaps, perceiving God as “eclipsed” only depends on our way of seeing God and not in God’s essence. The verse quoted above mentions God’s hiding, but what about we, human beings?
The book of Bereshit recounts what happened after the first human beings ate the forbidden fruit: “They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8).
What happened? They made a Chet, a mistake, and hid from God. The divine voice was heard all around, and they went into hiding.
Perhaps the direct consequence of a transgression is the removal from God; our behavior is what moves us away. When we are on the wrong path, we are so convinced that our attitude is correct that it becomes difficult for us to be able to see and get closer to God at such times.
We find another example of this in Cain; after he finds out about his punishment, he says: “Since You have banished me this day from the soil, and I must avoid Your presence and become a restless wanderer on earth…” (Gen. 4:14). After the murder he committed, he cannot but hide from God’s eyes.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great rabbi and Jewish scholar, says in this regard: “The will of God is to be here, manifest and near; but when the doors of this world are slammed on Him, His truth betrayed, His will defied, He withdraws, leaving man to himself. God did not depart of His own volition; He was expelled. God is in exile. […] It is man who hides, who flees, who has an alibi. God is less rare than we think; when we long for Him, His distance crumbles away.
The prophets do not speak of the hidden God but of the hiding God. His hiding is a function, not His essence; an act, not a permanent state. It is when the people forsake Him, breaking the covenant which He has made with them, that He forsakes them and hides His face from them. It is not God who is obscure. It is man who conceals Him…” (Extract from the book “Man is Not Alone”).
We can find this subject as well in the following Hasidic story:
The grandson of Rabbi Baruch of Medzibuz was playing hide-and-seek with a friend. He stayed in his hiding place for a long time, waiting for his friend to come and look for him. When he realized that his friend was not looking for him, he became very sad and disappointed. He ran into the study of his grandfather, crying and complaining about his friend.
Upon hearing the story, Rabbi Baruch also began to cry. “Why are you crying, Grandpa?” asked the boy. “Because,” said Rabbi Baruch, “God, too, says, ‘I hide. Will no one come to look for me?’”
In these days, after Yom Kippur and before the Festival of Succot, when our souls are more sensitive, when we are more open to thinking, perhaps we should reflect upon our own attitude before God.
How often do we blame God for all the bad things that happen in society, not realizing that most of the times human beings are the ones who cause destruction and evil?
How often do we think that God is hiding from us, not realizing that we are the ones who hide and remove ourselves from God?
Maybe it is true that God sometimes conceals Himself; then, our mission is to search for Him and find God in our daily lives.
From the month of Elul until Hoshana Rabbah we recite in Psalm 27:
“Do not hide from me, do not reject your servant; You have always been my help; do not abandon me. Forsake me not, my God of deliverance.” (Extracts from Psalm 27)
During the festival of Succot, when we have our meals in the Succah, we have the opportunity to see above us, to appreciate the stars, the sky and be more connected with God. During Succot we realize how vulnerable our lives are and how much we need God’s help and protection.
Let’s try to search and find where God is hidden and open our hearts in order to be close to God.