I was playing hide and seek with my 3-year-old granddaughter Ita, who lives in Eretz Yisrael, on a video call with her. She placed her fingers over her face and said, “Opa, you can’t see me.” I then placed my hands over my face and told her, “You can’t see me!” She giggled and said, “Opa, I still see you!” She clearly knew that even though I might not be able to see her (in her perception), she could still see me.
Towards the end of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hagar ran away from the house of Avraham and Sarah, fleeing Sarah’s criticisms. An angel appeared to her and told her to return to Sarah, her mistress. He then told her the good news: “You are pregnant and will have a child, and you should call him Yishmael, as Hashem has heard your suffering.” Hagar exclaimed, “Hashem, You are the God who sees.” Therefore the place was named “Be’er l’Chai Ro’i, the Well of the Living Hashem That Sees Me.”
Rashi explains that Hagar was saying that Hashem sees the insult and degradation of people who are oppressed. Rashi also gives an alternate explanation: Hashem sees everything, but no one sees Him.
The concept of referring to Hashem as “the One who sees but cannot be seen” is found in a Gemara that records a story of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Chiya. They came to a city and were introduced to a young Torah scholar who was blind. They spoke about Torah, and he gave them a bracha: “You came to greet me—someone who cannot see but can be seen. You shall merit to greet the face of the One that sees but cannot be seen.” Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi remarked that this was one of the best brachos he ever received.
What was so incredible about that blessing? Rav Wolbe refers to another Gemara which describes Hashem as the One who sees but cannot be seen. That Gemara compares the neshama (soul) inside a person to Hashem in several ways. One is, just like Hashem can see but cannot be seen, so too the neshama can see but cannot be seen. This is evident in that a person is alive only as long as the neshama is inside his body, “seeing” what’s happening and animating the body. When the soul departs, the person dies even though the body remains, no longer able to “see.”
A major challenge in our emunah (faith) is that we cannot see Hashem. We know that He is there, but the concept is still challenging.
Hagar’s personal experience in Be’er l’Chai Ro’i gave her the clarity of recognizing Hashem’s presence. She ran away from Sarah, feeling down and depressed. While living in the house of Avraham and Sarah, Hagar was aware of Hashem. But at the well, she experienced something new. Hashem appeared to her … personally, in her sorry state. This gave her the new understanding that Hashem is the Living Hashem who sees her as an individual. Hashem sees her personal misery.
The greatest means of developing our emunah is to recognize the times in our own lives when we are experiencing divine oversight.
I clearly felt that a year ago. My son-in-law and daughter, Tzvi and Malka Sontag, were scheduled to fly to Eretz Yisrael a month after having a baby here in America. They needed a passport for their newborn son and their flight was the following Monday. The birth certificate arrived on Thursday morning and Tzvi went to the Manhattan one-day passport office to apply for the expedited passport. They told him to come back on Friday to pick it up. Friday … in Manhattan!
I told Tzvi to pick me up from yeshiva at 12:30 p.m. First, the car wouldn’t start, so we took another car, leaving Passaic at 1:10 p.m. Shabbos would begin at 5:50 p.m.. I was nervous, but off we went. Miraculously, it took only 30 minutes to drive into Manhattan! Another miracle: I got a parking spot … right in front of the passport office! I stayed in the car, counting the minutes, while Tzvi went inside. I couldn’t believe my eyes when just 10 minutes later, he came out with the passport. And miracle of miracles, we pulled back in front of my Passaic house at 2:30 p.m.! Unbelievable. That was a personal miracle for us. We lived through our own Be’er L’Chai Ro’i. Without divine oversight, I don’t believe there is any way we could have been so successful in our mission.
It’s a great idea to write down such occurrences and periodically review them. If you can, re-visit the places (like the passport center in my case) where you feel you experienced divine oversight. This can greatly help strengthen our emunah, to realize that although we don’t see Him, Hashem is always watching over us personally.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com