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Hiding in Plain Sight

June 20, 2020

I don’t know about you, but some mornings I wake up energized for life, excited to daven, enthusiastic about learning and teaching Torah, and inspired to have a productive and meaningful day. Other days, I wake up feeling exhausted, like I have to pull myself to shul, go through the routines of morning davening, and just make it through the day. Of course, there are many factors that help determine into which category a particular day might fall, such as what time I went to sleep the night before, what I have planned for the day ahead, and much more. But, it’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes there is a mysterious factor that we can’t quite explain. Sometimes it feels as if Hashem is just with us; He is helping us out, guiding us, cheering us on, and that feeling provides a great sense of comfort and positivity. And sometimes, it feels as if Hashem is hiding or absent, as if we’re on our own, uninspired, or disconnected. How do we manage these more difficult days?

This is something that Hashem wants us to grapple with on a regular basis. In fact, in what might be the climax of our morning and even davening, we take a moment to recognize the challenge of feeling distant from Hashem, and we think about how we can use it as an opportunity for growth and meaning.

There are three paragraphs in the Kriat Shema that we say each morning and night. The third paragraph, beginning “ויאמר ה' אל משה לאמר, Hashem said to Moshe, saying, (Bamidbar 15:37)” is at the end of our parsha, Parshat Shelach. This paragraph ends with an unusual sentence: “אני ה' אלקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלקים אני ה' אלקיכם, I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; I am Hashem your G-d. (Bamidbar 15:41)” Once the beginning of the verse reminded us that Hashem is our G-d who took us out of Egypt, why does the end of the same verse repeat “I am Hashem your G-d?” We know, of course, that the Torah doesn’t waste any words; so how can we justify these final three?

Moreover, when we say Shema in davening, we connect this final phrase with the subsequent prayer that begins with the word אמת, truth. In fact, the Gemara on Berachot 14a states that one must not pause, even for a moment, between the words אלקיכם and אמת. These passages are intimately connected, and must be linked together as one. The Shulchan Aruch codifies, “בין ויאמר לאמת ויציב לא יפסיק שלא להפסיק בין ה' לאמת אלא יאמר אני ה' אלקיכם אמת, from ויאמר to ויציב on should not interrupt so as not to interrupt between ה' and אמת; rather, one should say 'אני ה' אלקיכם אמת'. (Orach Chaim 66:5)” It’s for this reason that when the chazan loudly concludes the Shema, he does so by repeating the words, “ה' אלקיכם אמת,” directly linking the final two words of our parsha to the word and concept of אמת. What is the deeper meaning of this connection?

R. Shimon Schwab (Maayan Beit Hashoeva p. 329) explains that Hashem has two forms of interaction with the world: התגלות אלקותו יתברך, revelation of His self, and הסתר פנים, a hiding of the face. There have been moments in world history, Jewish history, and, in truth, every individual’s personal experience, where Hashem chose to reveal Himself. The truth of His existence was made crystal clear, His presence was felt, and His loving support was tangible. And there have been other moments when He was hidden; we were left confused, struggling, or uncertain. Where did He go? Why don’t I feel Him? Is He truly there?

Kriat Shema begins with the clarion call of “שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד, Hear Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One. (Devarim 6:4)” We declare that we believe in G-d’s Oneness. He is the truest form of existence, Has always existed and always will, and there is no second. What about those moments when we can’t find Him? We remind ourselves at the end of the Shema: “I am Hashem, you G-d, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you.” There was no greater time of divine revelation than when Hashem miraculously took us out of Egypt, split the sea and drowned the Egyptians, and then gave us the Torah at Har Sinai. It was an experience about which our Sages teach that any person who witnessed these events experienced a form of prophecy. The fact that “I am Hashem your G-d” was made absolutely apparent by His removing us from Egypt, and leading us on the ensuing journey.

But, we are reminded, it isn’t always like that. There are also moments of “I am Hashem your G-d,” but nothing more. End of sentence. No revelation, no clarity, and no miracles. The emotions and excitement are no longer there in the same way. And yet, we believe, and we know, “I am (still) ה' your G-d.”

To use a cliché example, imagine you are a child learning to ride a bike. You begin peddling, and you feel your parents holding on tight to the back of your bike. You feel a nice, warm sense of security that my parent is taking care of me, and nothing bad can, or will, happen. Suddenly, your parent lets go, and your bike begins to wobble. You are confused. Where did they go? Why are they abandoning me? Can I make it alone? How can I ever trust them again? Of course, as the parents, we understand that letting go is part of our job. And though we may have let go, of course we are still there, watching, guiding, supporting, and cheering, albeit from a bit more of a distance. Hashem is like our parent, and we may not know or understand why He sometimes lets go and watches us from a distance. But we remind ourselves that He is still there, He’s still watching, and it’s our job to keep the bike going straight until we can again feel his support more directly.

That’s why this closing line of the Shema must connect immediately with the word אמת. What keeps us going during these times of disconnect? How do we pull ourselves to shul, to Torah learning, or to chesed on days when we’re just not “feeling it?” We repeat that word again: אמת, it’s the truth. Deep down, we know that He is always there and always will be.

On those more challenging days, I like to take a minute to think. I assure myself that it’s ok if I don’t feel the same enthusiasm as yesterday, or if my davening feels less inspired. I try and tell myself that some days we are lucky enough to feel Hashem right next to us, and other days we have the special opportunity to declare our belief in the אמת, the truth of the statement “אני ה' אלקיכם, I am Hashem your G-d,” no matter what, end of sentence.

Have a great Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox  

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781