Reveal Your Hiding

Dena Weiss

Parashat VaYelekh

In this week’s parashah, Moshe transfers leadership to Yeshoshua, telling him and Benei Yisrael what to anticipate when they finally enter the land. Sadly, the prognosis is not good—God expects bad behavior and devastating consequences:

דברים לא:טז-יח
וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנְּךָ שֹׁכֵב עִם אֲבֹתֶיךָ וְקָם הָעָם הַזֶּה וְזָנָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהֵי נֵכַר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר הוּא בָא שָׁמָּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ וַעֲזָבַנִי וְהֵפֵר אֶת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אִתּוֹ: וְחָרָה אַפִּי בוֹ בַיּוֹם הַהוּא וַעֲזַבְתִּים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם וְהָיָה לֶאֱכֹל וּמְצָאֻהוּ רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת וְצָרוֹת וְאָמַר בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא הֲלֹא עַל כִּי אֵין אֱלֹהַי בְּקִרְבִּי מְצָאוּנִי הָרָעוֹת הָאֵלֶּה: וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא עַל כָּל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כִּי פָנָה אֶל אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים:


Devarim 31:16-18
God said to Moshe, “Soon you will lie down with your ancestors. Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake Me, breaking My covenant that I have made with them. My anger will be kindled against them in that day. I will forsake them and hide My face from them; they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ On that day, I will surely hide My face on account of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods.”1 


Twice over the course of these verses, God explains that a component of His anger, or perhaps what it is that allows His anger to flare, is the fact that God obscures His presence in the world. First God says, וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם, I will hide My face from them, and then He says, in the emphatic case, וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, On that day I will surely hide My face. On one level, God’s withdrawing Himself by hiding is purely instrumental: the shining of God’s countenance implies and accompanies demonstrations of God’s pleasure,2 so when God wants to express displeasure and wants to punish us this necessarily entails the covering or turning away of God’s face. But on a second level, the hiding of God’s face is emotional, it is a way of saying, “I’m so disappointed in you that I can’t bear to look at you.” While it is difficult to absorb God’s anger and its consequences, God’s displaying His disappointment can feel much worse. God’s anger can be somewhat abstract, a reflexive response to a negative action. God’s giving us the cold shoulder, however, is deeply and painfully personal because it is about the emotional consequences of our behavior. We made God feel bad, and therefore He doesn’t want to be close to us.

In the Hebrew, the emphatic case “I will surely hide” uses a repeating language, הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר, hasteir astir. The Ba’al Shem Tov3 teaches that this doubled structure encodes that the second prophecy of God’s concealment is not just different in intensity, but in kind. In fact, there are two levels of concealment. The first level, the simple hiding of וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם, I will hide My face from them is difficult, but manageable, for when God tells us that He will be in concealment, there is a positive element embedded in this negative condition. Although God will be hidden, He tells us that He has gone. So while God certainly evinces displeasure, the door is open for us to notice that God has left and this enables us to seek Him. Although God moves away, He also coyly hints at the possibility of a meaningful reconciliation. God hides, but tells us that He may be found.

However, the second level of hasteir astir does not contain this redemptive element. In hasteir astir, according to the Ba’al Shem Tov, first God hides Himself, hasteir, then God hides the hiding, astir. Not only is God remote, but we are also kept completely ignorant of that fact. God is not only distant or hidden, He is also inaccessible. We need to know that God has removed Himself in order to know that we need to—and can—find Him. Hasteir astir constructs a situation of painful obliviousness. It allows us to stumble around unaware of what we have done and the impact that it has had on God and our relationship with Him. In hasteir, we feel remorse over what we’ve done. In hasteir astir, we are not sensitized, we don’t feel badly at all, and that makes the condition that we are in much worse, much farther from reconciliation and redemption.

The language of God’s hiding Himself is echoed elsewhere in Rabbinic literature, where it again has an emotional quality: 

מדרש איכה, פתחתא כד
באותה שעה היה הקב"ה בוכה ואומר- אוי לי מה עשיתי? השריתי שכינתי למטה בשביל ישראל, ועכשיו שחטאו חזרתי למקומי הראשון, ח"ו שהייתי שחוק לגוים ולעג לבריות! באותה שעה בא מטטרון ונפל על פניו, ואמר לפניו - רבש"ע אני אבכה ואתה לא תבכה. אמר לו אם אין אתה מניח לי לבכות עכשיו אכנס למקום שאין לך רשות ליכנס ואבכה, שנאמר ואם לא תשמעוה במסתרים תבכה נפשי מפני גוה וגו’ (ירמיה יג:יז). 


Midrash Eikhah, Petihta 24
At that time [when the Temple was destroyed] God was crying and saying, “Woe unto Me, what have I done?! I brought down My presence for the sake of Israel. Now that they have sinned, I have returned to my original place. Heaven forbid, I might become a laughingstock for the nations and ridicule among people!” At that time [the archangel] Metatron came and fell on his face. He said to [God], “Master of the Universe, Do not cry, I will cry.” [God] said to him, “If you don’t let Me cry now I will enter the place that you may not enter and I will cry,” as it says And if you do not listen to it, I will weep in secret (mistorim) because of such pride... (Yirmiyahu 13:17).


In this midrash, we see the expression of what hester panim, the hiding of the Divine Countenance, looks like. God returns to God’s original place, removing His presence from the Temple which leaves it vulnerable to a horrifying destruction. Through God’s actions, God displays His anger. But we don’t only see what God does, we also see how God feels about it. God is crying and displaying His sadness, His disappointment, how stunned He is by the consequences of the punishment He set into motion. This is hasteir—God is hidden, but we are granted awareness of that hiddenness. We see and feel the results of God’s removal from the world.

When the angel Metatron tries to intervene and cry on God’s behalf, he does so because it is painful to see God cry, and he feels that it is undignified for God to display such vulnerability.4 God does not accept this offer and threatens the angel with His retreating to a further level of hiddenness, to secret mistorim. This second level of retreat parallels the hidden hiddenness referenced in our parashahMistorim is the place where God goes when He conceals His concealment. The angel is bowed by this threat and allows God the space that He needs and desires to express His emotions. The midrash reflects the insight of the Ba’al Shem Tov, that concealment is painful, but it is instructive and contains some hope and possibility. Concealment of the concealment, hasteir astir, is a place that is untenable, which we must try our best to keep God from entering.

The way that God insists on sharing His emotions in this midrash, despite the discomfort felt by those who witness it, teaches us a fundamental lesson about the importance of emotional transparency. Sometimes we need to take some space for ourselves; sometimes a person just needs to cry. The rawness of of these emotions, the difficulty in processing them, often makes it more comfortable to display them privately. God cries in heaven, where only the angels see. But there is a difference between wanting to keep one’s emotions private and wanting to conceal or hide them out of shame. The entirely concealed emotions are in the realm of mistorim, hidden hiddenness. It is the difference between not inviting others to see you cry and insisting on being thought of as a person who doesn’t cry. 

The benefits to emotional transparency are explained by the Ba’al Shem Tov’s insight. It is not necessary to be constantly present and engaged, to be always happy and smiling. Sometimes it is necessary to retreat a bit from the world, its sadness and pressures, and to take some personal space. But when we are distressed or displeased, at minimum we need to be willing to admit that this is how we feel, to acknowledge that there is, in fact a problem. Addressing the problem becomes possible only one we know that it exists. The angels can’t bear to see God upset, it is difficult for them, but God insists that this discomfort is productive and necessary.

Emotional transparency redounds to the benefit of both the person who shares their emotions (or the traces of their emotions) and the person who witnesses or is made aware of these feelings. The emotional person benefits when they acknowledge their emotions and admit them to another because it takes these emotions out of the realm of secrecy. We can become so secretive about our emotions, closing everyone out of how we feel that we can come to a place where we are not even aware of our own emotions, where we become thoroughly and irreversibly exiled and estranged from ourselves. When we try to act invulnerable, like nothing touches or affects us it can be very damaging; the suffering takes its toll on you whether or not you are aware of it. But if you are aware of your feelings, then you can take the time and space that you need to do the inner work to come out strong. Although God did allow the destruction of the Temple and countless calamities hence, in the wake of the suffering, and through the text of the Torah, God gives us the gift of the example of His emotional transparency and vulnerability. When we are in exile, the Shekhinah comes with us.5 We can be distracted by the concern over whether or not God is angry at us and allow this to obscure how amazing it is that we are privy to God’s emotions. Even in God’s absence, God lets us into His process and shows us His feelings. There is a tremendous amount of presence and trust in that openness.

The person who witnesses is also blessed by this transparency; they are blessed with information. They are able to provide support, and they are able to participate in your sorrow even if they can’t alleviate it. And more importantly, if the witness was the cause or contributor to your sadness, when they see what they have done they are able to understand it and take responsibility for it. I need to know that I have done something wrong in order to be able to set things right. Often we have expectations about how people should react in a given situation, but we don’t give them the guidance in how to respond. We don’t tell them that we are upset and we don’t tell them why. When we are emotionally transparent, we provide critical tools to those who see us and care for us, and we enable ourselves to be in honest relationship with them.

Of course, it is not only important to share our negative emotions and to let other people in to the ways that we are hurt, damaged, and suffering. It is equally important, and often equally difficult to let other people into our joy and to be demonstrative with our positive emotions. Hiding our love can also lead to negative consequences, as R. Yehezkel MiKozmir illustrates: 

ר' יחזקאל טאוב מקוזמיר - דברים כט:יח
והתברך בלבבו… ומאז שהתחילו לאהוב את ה' בלב בלבדת ונימוקם עמם שהעיקר הוא הלב, "רחמנא ליבא בעי," ואין צורך להראות את האהבה במעשים, במצוות מעשיות, וכיון ש"ה' צלך" ה' הוא כמו הצל שלך (כדברי הבעש"ט), מה שאתה עושה גם הוא עושה, הרי גם הוא אוהב אותנו בסתר, ואינו מראה חיבתו במעשים.


R. Yehezkel Taub MiKozmir,6 Devarim 29:18
He blesses himself in his heart… And from the point that they began to love God in the heart alone, and it stands to reason, since the core principle is the heart, “the Merciful One wants the heart,” [they thought] there was no need to show that love with actions, with practical mitzvot. And since God is your shadow7—God is like your shadow (like the Ba’al Shem Tov said)—what you do, God also does, so He will also love us in secret and will not show His love through [munificent] actions.


Of course, we could keep our feelings private and only love God in our hearts. But that prevents our emotions from doing the constructive work that they are capable of doing. According to the Rav MiKozmir, when we keep our feelings inside and when we don’t share the fruits of our love through positive action, we are unable to fully make our feelings real to actualize them enough to elicit the love that we want in return. We want God to be emotionally present and lovingly demonstrative to us, so we need to reveal ourselves to Him. When you feel close to someone, and when you feel the desire to be near them, do not withhold this feeling from them. Make your affection clear through your demeanor, your words and your actions. They will respond to your transparency. If you show love it will be shown to you.

1 NRSV trans. emended.

2 See BeMidbar 6:25.

3 Testified to in various sources. See Ben Porat Yosef 28:3. (The Ba’al Shem Tov wrote nothing of his own, all of his teachings are known to us through his students).

4 On Talmud Bavli Haggigah 5b, there is a passage on a similar theme of God’s crying which uses the same verse. In the Talmudic treatment of God’s tears, there is an even more profound discomfort with the notion that God would have any sadness, let alone cry on account of it.

5 See Talmud Bavli Yoma 56b.

6 1771-1855, Poland.

7 Cf. Tehillim 121:5.