June 8, 2024
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June 8, 2024
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Playing Hide and Seek With Hashem

Generally, we have direct forms of interacting with one another. Say, spotting a friend across the room and calling for their attention. When playing hide-and-seek, however, the seeker requires a fundamentally different approach to connect. Subtler clues—like a couch out of position or a cough from under a table—are what alert them to the presence of others.

In last week’s parsha, we are told that God will eventually be so fed up with the Jews’ misdeeds that He declares, “I will keep My countenance hidden on that day.” The Gemara in Chullin even understands this as a reference to Esther, heroine of the holiday most associated with God’s behind-the-scenes masterminding.

We currently live in that period of hiddenness. Nature defying miracles are a thing of the distant past. Prophecy—our direct pipeline to God—has been closed since the dawn of the second Beis Hamikdash. All in fulfillment of God’s word. Is that all there is to it? That due to our national-historical wickedness, we are doomed to be more distant from God, stuck in the shadows of “hester panim” indefinitely? Or, perhaps, there is something more to this way of relating to God.

The Gemara in Brachos details the prayer of Chizkiyahu—king of Malchus Yehuda—when he fell seriously ill. It quotes a pasuk in Yeshaya, where Chizkiyahu implores God to remember the good that he had done. There are two opinions as to what positive actions Chizkiyahu was referring to. Rebbe Levi offers the latter, saying Chizkiyahu was asking for mercy because he had hid the “book of remedies.”

By hiding this medical volume—explain the commentators—Chizkiyahu forced himself and the people to rely on God to be healed from their maladies. With this book still easily available, the Jews would have relied too heavily on local doctors to heal them using the book’s methods.

At first glance, this is quite troubling. Whatever happened to the concept of hishtadlus? Are we not supposed to exert our own human effort to achieve? Why was it necessary—even meritorious—for Chizkiyahu to remove this book from the public eye?

When God “hid” Himself, it wasn’t simply a matter of God just pulling away, wishing us luck and abandoning us to our own devices. He fundamentally changed the way that we are supposed to relate to Him. Our world is not one where we can expect to see God’s hand through supernatural events; we do not experience the terrestrial upheavals like in Egypt. But that does not mean that He is not there. Instead, we are expected to see and connect with Him via the natural phenomena. For Chizkiyahu’s generation—a time where God’s presence was more openly tangible—it would have been inappropriate for them to over-rely on the worldly medicine of the time, if it meant forgoing a more direct connection to God. For our generation, however, the circumstances are different.

I used to have difficulty connecting to Mashiv HaRuach and the entire Talmudic concept of fasting for rain in modern times. Rainwater is critical; but in an age with great technological advancements in irrigation and water storage and preservation, Israel certainly wouldn’t be in dire straits, if one year, it rained only a few months later than expected.

However, this difficulty only exists if God’s hiddenness is purely a presumption of distance. God is no longer as directly involved in our lives, which is now less of an issue due to technology. But if one assumes that God’s withdrawal is primarily just a paradigm shift of connectivity, then the question falls away. True, we have the means to survive without rain much longer and better than mankind could in years past. But God is still ensuring that those systems don’t fail. He is the One who blessed man with the ability to make these advancements, as well as provides the hashgacha that keeps them running.

In his commentary on sefer Shemos, the Ramban implies that perception is the main difference between open and hidden miracles. Open miracles are just the events that we are not accustomed to seeing. But in reality, every day events are no different than the splitting of the Yam Suf. There is nothing about an antibacterial drug fighting off an infection that is, inherently, more logical than the sun standing still. Everything requires divine involvement and all continues to exist because God wills it so.

God continues to exist in every moment of our lives. But the way we relate to Him is different than it once was. We are supposed to see and connect to him using “natural means.” Of course, we still need to daven—but unlike Chizkiyahu—we are supposed to use the book of healing.

That is the way in which we connect to God, by using the ordinary tools that He has given us and recognizing that they only work because He commands it. It’s like when a young child “plays” a video game at an arcade. He’s pressing the buttons, thinking he’s making the characters move. But he never put in any money. The game is just running its’ demo over and over again, powered by the outlet it’s plugged into.

We can and are supposed to put our hishtadlus into everyday matters and do our best to understand and use the natural world around us. We just need to ensure we understand that God is still behind it all.

As the classic Uncle Moishy song goes, “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere.” It was true way back when, and it’s still true now. We just have to look a little harder.

Barak Hagler is a young Jewish professional living in Hillside. He cares deeply about the general Orthodox community that he is a part of, and enjoys discussing the various facets that it comprises. He can be reached at [email protected] with any thoughts or comments.

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