Parshas Vayelech: The Hidden and the Revealed

IMG_3919In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayelech, we read of the terrible calamity of hester panim (concealment of the Divine Presence R”L), that may befall our people, should we stray after gods of others and forsake the covenant of Hashem.  וְאָנֹכִי, הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, עַל כָּל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה: כִּי פָנָה, אֶל-אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים – And I will surely conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that it (the nation) did, for it had turned to gods of others (Devarim 31:18).

Rashi explains that during a time of hester panim, כמו שאיני רואה בצרתם – it is as if Hashem does not see our troubles (Rashi to Devarim 31:17).  Sifsei Chachamim (ibid) explains that hester panim is the absence of His Hashgacha (active supervision and involvement), for everyone who does not see something, is not mashgiach over that thing.

The Ibn Ezra (Deut.31:18) explains even further: הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר – For if they call to Me, I will not answer.  And the mashal (parable) is like a man who does not see and does not know what will be done. 

As we lament on our mournful, tragic day of 9 Av: Eichah 3:8 – גַּם כִּי אֶזְעַק וַאֲשַׁוֵּעַ, שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי, Yet even when I cry and call for help, He shuts out my prayer; Eichah 3:44 –  סַכּוֹתָה בֶעָנָן לָךְ, מֵעֲבוֹר תְּפִלָּה, You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through.

During such a terrible time, it is as if G-d does not see our misfortune; He removes His Hashgacha from upon us; and if we call out to Him during such a terrible time, He will R”L not answer us.

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l notes that Churban Europa, the inexplicable destruction of the Holocaust that befell our nation, was such a time.

My grandfather, Yitzchak ben Moshe a’h, Yitzchak Kaftan, wrote of his wartime experiences, “I shall never forget that Yom Kippur (1942), when everyone realized that forthcoming catastrophe.  We gathered at Reb Peretz Shochet’s for Kol Nidrei.  When I passed through the street where my first rebbe, Reb Avraham Brand lived, and saw him sitting by his door dressed as if for a voyage, I asked him: ‘What are you waiting for?’  ‘I am waiting for death’s arrival,’ that was his answer…”

Of his time in the forced labor camp of Budzin (after his toddler daughter, Devorah, and his wife HY”D, were already murdered), my grandfather wrote, “Yom Kippur, when we came from a hard day’s work, we quickly went in to the barracks so that the Neilah could still be prayed with a minyan, yet for us was heaven closed.  However, all of us together vigorously pleaded for help.”

And yet, as painful, perplexing, searing and difficult as such a time is for us, the Sages teach (Medrash Bereishis Rabbah), “There is no harder moment (for Hashem) than when the verse ‘I will surely hide My face at that time’ was written in the Torah.” 

What then, must we do when Hashem, so to speak, hides His countenance from us? 

As my grandfather noted: The heavens were closed, and nevertheless, we pleaded for help. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches that “There is a type of גלוי שכינה (Divine revelation) that bridges the revelation experienced in the past (the revelation at Mt. Sinai) with that to be experienced in the future (in the End of Days).  Namely, the גלוי שכינה accessible to us in the present… Although this revelation cannot be apprehended visually or through the other senses, it is nonetheless very real.  The Jewish people could not exist without this form of גלוי שכינה.  Each Jew must develop within himself the ability to experience the presence of G-d, to feel that he is never really alone, even though he can neither see nor hear Him… A Jew is required to develop within himself the ability to feel a sense of closeness with G-d, to see Him in every phenomenon, in historical events as well as in the majesty of nature. 

“Similarly, the mitzvah to rejoice during the festivals is in the presence of Hashem.  There is no greater joy than being able to sense that one stands in His Presence.  One who rejoices without feeling closeness to Hashem experiences only a superficial sensation… True joy is only felt when man feels that he is close to his Origin, when he feels rooted… Man can attain this sense (of joy) only by being close to G-d.” (Machzor Masores Ha’Rav l’Rosh Hashanah, p.550-551)

We must strive to feel that we are truly in the presence of G-d, to feel Him in our lives, to note the גלוי שכינה, Divine revelation, in the present.  For without this, notes R’ Soloveitchik, the Jewish people could not exist.

…וְחָרָה אַפִּי בוֹ בַיּוֹם-הַהוּא וַעֲזַבְתִּים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם, וְהָיָה לֶאֱכֹל, וּמְצָאֻהוּ רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְצָרוֹת – Then My anger shall be kindled against them on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them…(Devarim 31:17).

My grandfather wrote, “I still remember several names of those killed: Reb Yehoshua-Asher Weinberg; Reb Peretz Feder.  He and I slept on one pallet and talked continually about the murderers that they were sent by G-d and their end is near.  We suffer now so that the Messiah will come.  Whoever will survive this hell will see a Jewish state.  I remember also my uncle, Moishe Markovitches, a boy of 13 years.  Handsome as a tree in bloom – he was also among those who were shot, may G-d avenge his blood.”

As we prepare for Yom Kippur, when we will storm the heavens – may they be open to our prayers – we too must vigorously plead for help from the Only One Who can help. 

May this be the year of joy for all, tranquility and everlasting peace for our people and our Land, as we will merit to witness the ultimate גלוי שכינה with the Revelation that will manifest in the End of Days, with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkainu, amen v’amen.

בברכת גמר וחתימה טובה,


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