Is God Hidden from us Today?
Prior to writing this message for Shabbat, a verse written in the letter to the Hebrews constantly came to my mind. It says: “GOD, having spoken at many times and in many ways at another time…” (Hebrews 1:1).
This led me to meditate on how often God speaks to us in various ways and at different times, but we don’t grasp it because we simply can’t wrap our brains around it in terms of our paradigms. For this reason, the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55:8 expressed: “My thoughts are not Your thoughts…” How can we possibly understand the Eternal while we are in this finite body? How can we understand Divinity in this physical body, the unlimited by the limited through time and space?
For instance, hasn’t the world only recently discovered what has already existed, by the James Webb Space Telescope launched in 2021 and in 2023 published details of the galaxy still unknown? What this type of telescope did was to show us a clearer image of what is, what was and what exists in the Universe, that is imperceptible to our eyes, but is there.
The book of Shemot begins with the story of a people who are developing in slavery. Is God in the midst of suffering? the murder of children thrown into the Nile? of reducing His “People” to being brick builders through days of sheer exhaustion?
And the book of Shemot ends with the following verses: “And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle. And Moses could not enter the Mishkan, because the cloud rested on it and the glory of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle:” The Likitei Sichot Volume III says: “At the end of Parashat Pekudei, the Torah refers to the cloud that was over the Mishkan;, the “cloud” alludes to concealment (of Divinity), since the cloud did not allow Moshe’s access to the Ochel Moed, as the Scripture points out: ‘Moshe could not enter the Ochel Moed because of the cloud that rested on it’.”
Thus, we see that Divinity was apparently hidden at the beginning and at the end of this book. However, in each event that happened, no matter how painful or amazing it may be, the Eternal was there, as Tehilim 121:4 says: “Behold, the Protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps”. He is always present, even though He does not seem to be.
After almost a month of absence from our community life and long workdays that have brought physical consequences to my body, fatigue to my mind and wear and tear on my interpersonal relationships, I have realized that in the midst of these situations, the Eternal has been with me, even when it is difficult for me to see Him, in illness, stress, anguish, impatience, toxic relationships or adverse situations. Often, in order to get us to react, God doesn’t send us flowers or beautiful verses, but rather he orchestrates situations where He “speaks to us in a variety of ways”, so that we will react and move toward Teshuvah.
Scholars like Mitchell wrote about the word Olam stating: “Some scholars conjecture that the word OLAM is related to the Hebrew root, Aleph Lamed Mem, meaning “to hide”. From this perspective, the biblical and historical meaning “Olam” reflects the hidden (unknown) past and future…. Other scholars surmise that it is related to an Akkadian word “ullanu” which meant “to be distant”; that is, the distant past and future. The true etymology of the word may still be hidden! Is it possible that God physically placed us on a material plane and in a created world where He is continually hidden and distant?
On many occasions, man also hides from Him. We read that Adam and Eve hid from the face of the Eternal when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:8), then Cain, after murdering his brother, hid saying “Here, you take me away from the face of the earth, and I must hide from Your face.”(Gen. 14:4 ) Concealment, we can also understand as the rupture of the relationship between the Divine and the human, produced by pain and disappointment, as Stephen Arnoff mentions in his article “The Hidden Face of God”.
Also, in this world, as Rabbi Ishai Hariri says, “If a person wants to live with joy and tranquility in his life, he has to know that when someone does something bad to him and receives harm, he cannot take it personally or get angry with this person because it was not he/she who attacked you, but the Eternal who ‘disguised’ himself as that person”. This person can be your wife, your boss, a business relation, a neighbor, a partner, the law, a politician, etc. and the Eternal “visits” them, with the aim of changing our behavior.
It’s all about changing ourselves so that the manifestation of Divinity surrounds us and manifests itself in our Mishkan. On the other hand, in connection with the previous idea, this portion speaks about the construction of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, which comes from the Hebrew word שכן (Sh’chn) that is related to the Shechinah שְׁכִינָה (Divine Presence) but also with Shachen, neighbor, giving us an idea that the Divine manifestation will take place in the midst of the community. It was necessary to create this physical space that became the spiritual and relationship center of the Israelites in the desert, because we read in 39:42 – 43 “According to all that the Eternal had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did, all the work. And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they did it; as the Eternal had ordered, so they had done it; and Moses blessed them.” I think this is the crucial point of this portion, because in order that the Divine Presence manifests itself, the community is vital, if not, how will we see God’s goodness towards us? how will we practice the Mitzvot and the Mishpatim? How will we show justice and the immense love of the Eternal towards one another? That is why God said at the beginning: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Finally, regarding the materials with which the utensils of the Mishkan were built, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says: “ ‘Gold’ represents the purity and perfection of the tzaddik. The “Silver” represents for the Baal Teshuvah (“the returned” or the penitent) the great longing for closeness to the Almighty—a longing far more powerful than that of any tzadik because it is a longing for things far away (kessef, the Hebrew word for silver, also means “longing”). Copper, the lowest of metals, represents the good works of the sinner. The Eternal’s home on earth is complete only when it includes all three.”
By connecting the three previous ideas, in the world we can decide if we want the Divine Presence to manifest or not. For it to manifest, community life is necessary to emulate the materials of the Mishkan (purity, longing for closeness to God and good works). Rabbi DovBer of Mezheritch said to a crying child: “Why are you crying?” he asked. The boy replied that he and a friend had been playing “hide-and-seek”, but his friend had run off to have some fun, leaving him huddled in his hiding-place, hoping in vain that they would find him. Rabbi DovBer raised his eyes to heaven and exclaimed: “You too have hidden Your face from us just because You want us to look for You. But Your children have grown tired of the game and have fled…”.
How does God speak to us these days? Let us take the words of Eichah (Lamentations) 3:42 – 43 “Let us search and try our ways and turn back to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to our God in the heavens.” He wants to manifest Himself as broad daylight, but do we allow Him to?