Hide-and-Seek

Marc Chagall’s “The Blue Face”

From Moshe Chaim Efraim, Degel Machane Efraim, Likutim, also found in Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Parshat Vayeilech.

And hiding I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities. Deuteronomy 31:18

I heard a teaching on this verse from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov] about the meaning of the doubled “hide” (1). It is a terrible thing when a person does not know that God is hiding. If he does not know God is hiding, how can he know to seek out and return to God? But when he feels in his soul that God is hiding, then he knows to seek God’s presence. This is the meaning of “hiding I will hide”: I will hide the very fact that I am hiding, and My hiddenness will not be known.

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1) This is a common literary device in the Torah that is used to emphasize a verb, hence the frequent translation, “I will surely hide.” The Hasidic masters, while surely aware of the literary use of the doubling, were not content to leave it at that and sought deeper meanings.

Jeff says…

A story is told of the Baal Shem Tov’s other famous grandson, Baruch of Medzibozh, how one day is own grandson Yehiel came to him in tears and complained that he had been playing hide-and-seek, but that no one was looking for him. The Medzibozher put a hand on the boy’s head and said, “Yes, that must be how God feels, too.”

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From Moshe Chaim Efraim, Degel Mahane Efraim, Parshat Vayeilech.

And hiding I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities. Deuteronomy 31:18

It is a great wonder how the Holy One of Blessing could hide His face from us, for how could we even go on living? Are we not called God’s children? But it is like the story [told by the Baal Shem Tov] of a king who used magic to put all sorts of barriers around his palace — walls, rivers, even fire — and hid there from his children. The wise among his children wondered, “How could our merciful father not want to show his face to his own beloved children? It must be an illusion made to test us!” And at the peril of their lives they jumped into the rivers, and as soon as they did the rivers disappeared. Some were still afraid to fling themselves against the walls, but for those who did the walls disappeared. Yet some were still afraid to pass through the fire and turned back, but for those who were ready to give up their lives and passed into the fire, the fire disappeared and they found themselves before the king. What’s more, they found that they had grown, and were greater and stronger than when the test began.

This is the meaning of what God tells Jacob when he is preparing to go down to Egypt: “I will go down with you” (2). [The word God uses for “I” is anokhi, which means God in hiding, and is the same word in our verse (3).] So if you pay attention you will realize that even when you “descend” away from God, still God is there with you, hidden, and this too is for your good. Then God says “and I will bring you up, and bring you up again,” that is, you will merit greater spiritual heights than before. Understand this.

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2) Genesis 46:4   3) Anokhi, אנכי, is read as K’Ani, כאני, which translates roughly as “not quite I but something like Me,” that is, God hidden within this world. Ezekiel’s vision of God is full of this prefix K’-כ, to remind us that everything he saw was only an approximation of God’s reality and, what’s more, his words are only an approximation of what he saw.

Jeff says…

Pinhas of Koretz, a contemporary of the Baal Shem Tov, was once approached by his foremost student, Rafael of Bershad, who complained that sometimes it seemed as if God was hiding from him. His answer: “If you know it is hiding, it ceases to be hiding.”

Here are the original texts: DegelMahaneEfraimLikutim DegelMahaneEfraimVayeilech

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This entry was posted in Baal Shem Tov/ Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Elul, Hasidic Masters, Moshe Chaim Efraim/ Degel Mahane Efraim, Parsha, Vayeilech. Bookmark the permalink.

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