No moment in human history was as sad as the moment in which the Lord said to Moses, “and I will surely hide My face in that day on account of all the evil which they have done, because they have turned to other Gods (Deuteronomy 31:18)
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man
You have seen all that the Lord did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his courtiers and to his whole country: the wondrous feats that you saw with your own eyes, those prodigious signs and marvels. Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. –Deuteronomy 29;1-3 (JPS Tanakh)
Faith is an act of the whole person, of mind, will, and heart. Faith is sensitivity, understanding, engagement, and attachment; not something achieved once and for all, but an attitude one may gain and lose. -Heschel, page 154
That’s a terrifying thought. As the month of Elul wanes and the High Holidays approach, we seek to remove the burden of our sins from us and re-establish our connection with God and with our fellow human beings. To do this, we must connect to our faith, not as mere belief in the existence of God, but in the total knowledge and dedication that God exists and that He is alive and involved in the matters of mankind and in the lives of each of us individually. However our faith and understanding must transcend our own biases and personalities, for it is so easy to confuse our will with His will.
The thoughtless believes every word, but the prudent looks where he is going –Proverbs 14:15
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. –Acts 17:11
And why dost Thou permit faith to blend so easily with bigotry, arrogance, cruelty, folly, and superstition? -Heschel, page 155
The prophet Isaiah even lays this last question at the feet of God.
O Lord, why dost Thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear Thee not? –Isaiah 63:17
Even when we seek God earnestly and with great energy, we often make the hideous mistake of substituting our personality flaws for His justice, mercy, and will. This is the reason that secular people turn away from God and claim that “religion” is the root cause of all evil acts in the world. It is exactly because, in our worst moments, we people of “faith” really are guilty of all that we are accused, including intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and violence. And we claim that all of this error and sin is in the Name of our God and not sprouting from our own faulty human reasoning and emotions.
God saw the truth and spoke it to Moses in the hours before the great Prophet’s death, as recorded in Torah Portion Vayeilech:
The Lord said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, “Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.” Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods. –Deuteronomy 31:16-18 (JPS Tanakh)
What a bitter epitaph to the life of the Prophet Moses, who had dedicated everything he was to the preservation of the Children of Israel, in obedience and devotion to the God of his fathers. How can we go on in the face of such disappointment and failure?
This is the certainty which overwhelms us in such moments: man lives not only in time and space but also in the dimension of God’s attentiveness. God is concern, not only power. God is He to whom we are accountable. -Heschel, page 158
More particularly, the word nitzavim the core of the blessing given by G-d does not mean merely “standing.” It implies standing with power and strength, as reflected in the phrase: nitzav melech (I Kings 22:48. See Or HaTorah, Nitzavim, p. 1202.), “the deputy serving as king,” i.e., G-d’s blessing is that our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king’s deputy.
This blessing enables us to proceed through each new year with unflinching power; no challenges will budge us from our commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos. On the contrary, we will “proceed from strength to strength” in our endeavor to spread G-dly light throughout the world.
What is the source of this strength? Immutable permanence is a Divine quality. As the prophet proclaims: “I, G-d, have not changed,” (Malachi 3:6) and our Rabbis explain that one of the basic tenets of our faith is that the Creator is unchanging; (See Rambam, Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. I, ch. 68, et al.) nothing in our world can effect a transition on His part. Nevertheless, G-d has also granted the potential for His unchanging firmness to be reflected in the conduct of mortal beings, for the soul which is granted to every person is “an actual part of G-d.” (Tanya, ch. 2) This inner G-dly core endows every individual with insurmountable resources of strength to continue his Divine service.
It is God’s blessing upon us that gives us the strength to respond to Him with unswerving faith and that “our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king’s deputy.” We can only speculate who the “king’s deputy” is, although I have my own opinion on the matter. However, in our personal struggle to approach God and stand before the King, we must never forget that the battle does not belong to us only as individuals.
Only that which is good for all men is good for every man. No one is truly inspired for his own sake. He who is blessed, is a blessing for others.
There are many ways but only one goal. If there is one source of all, there must be one goal for all. The yearnings are our own, but the answer is His. -Heschel, page 162
In moments of insight God addresses Himself to a single soul. -Heschel, page 163
We can only see the world from our own point of view, but God sees everything from everyone’s perspective. He knows our wants and needs as individuals and He also hears the cry of His united Creation. For a Jew, Heschel says that even “the individual who feels forsaken remembers Him as the God of his fathers.” But the rest of us who don’t share that history and lifeline, must also remember that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). He created mankind, men and women, all of us in His own image. We are all His and in that, we can all be said to be “one”.
May our standing before G-d “as one” on Rosh HaShanah lead to a year of blessing for all mankind, in material and spiritual matters, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach. -Rabbi Touger
As we watch the approach of this year’s end and another year beginning to dawn, may we know before whom we stand and have faith and trust that the strength we need to appear before the King, He has already granted us through His blessing, to the Jew and the Gentile alike.
May the Messiah come soon and in our days.