Tag Archives: vayeilech

Vayeilech and Yom Kippur: Seeking the Hidden God

I shall hide my face from them…

Deuteronomy 31:17

Rabbi Avraham ‘the Angel’ was the only son of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch. When Rabbi Avraham was a young child, he once came weeping to his father: He had been playing hide and seek with a friend, sobbed the child, but the friend had lost interest and had run off to some new amusement, leaving little Avraham all alone in his hiding place, waiting in vain to be searched out.

Rabbi DovBer lifted his eyes to heaven and cried: “You, too, have hidden Your face from us only because You want us to seek You. But Your children have tired of the game and have run off…”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Cop-Out”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeilech

This may seem a little obscure compared to my usual Torah Portion “meditation,” but bear with me. As we are deeply immersed in the days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the struggle between man and God is especially acute. While it is normal for observant Jews to seek particular closeness with Hashem at this time, I can only imagine that there’s some frustration going on, too.

I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year. And as Passover would pass, I would start counting down to the dreaded day which was hovering just beyond the horizon.

I hated Yom Kippur because it made me feel like a fraud. I would bang away at my chest all day, enumerating all my sins, promising I was repentant. But in my heart I knew that I would return to my mean self the moment the fast was over. I didn’t believe I could ever change, that I was really worthy of life and that I would ever be able to redeem myself. So I would go through the day anxious for it to be over, hating myself for being such a big, fat fraud.

-Elaina Cline
“Why I Hated Yom Kippur”

I know exactly how she feels. This isn’t something most people admit to, but there’s this horrible fear that when I repent of something, it will come back to haunt me in the not-so-near or even the near future. When repentance is linked to a specific date on the calendar and for a month or more, you’ve been building up to an august, awesome, humbling, and overwhelming encounter with God, there’s this little voice in the back of your head (OK, in the back of my head) that says, “The balloon is going to pop as soon as the Yom Kippur fast is over, and you’re going to go back to business as usual.”

Yuk. What a horrible thought. What a depressing feeling.

Although this wasn’t the same matter that Moses was facing at the end of his life as recorded in this week’s Torah reading, I can see how he’d be just as depressed and even frustrated with God.

When Moses had put down in writing the words of this Teaching to the very end, Moses charged the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, saying: Take this book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, and let it remain there as a witness against you. Well I know how defiant and stiffnecked you are: even now, while I am still alive in your midst, you have been defiant toward the Lord; how much more, then, when I am dead! Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, that I may speak all these words to them and that I may call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that, when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path that I enjoined upon you, and that in time to come misfortune will befall you for having done evil in the sight of the Lord and vexed Him by your deeds. –Deuteronomy 31:24-29 (JPS Tanakh)

It wasn’t a matter of if the Children of Israel would sin and rebel against God, only when. After forty years of struggling with two generations of Israelites, of struggling with God, of struggling with his own humanity, Moses’ life ends on a down note.

Kind of like how we might end Yom Kippur on a down note. The balloon pops. The piousness wears off. We dig into the first yummy meal after the long fast, and do whatever we were doing before the High Holidays for this year entered our spiritual awareness.

Christians out there might say that they’re immune to this sort of spiritual let down because they can repent anytime they (we) want to, but frankly, so can any Jewish person. Imagine though, how you might experience yourself one way as you are preparing to “cleanse your soul” before Easter, and then what you might think, feel, and do the Monday after it’s all over. I think that’s the closest we non-Jewish Christians can come to the sort of Yom Kippur letdown Cline was talking about.

Rabbi Tauber talked about this same sort of frustration in his commentary. God withdraws from us so that we might look for Him, but when we look and look and do not find, like the child in the story, we abandon out “playmate” and seek other games. I’ve been tempted to do that on more than one occasion, particularly at the frustration of seeking but not finding my way to the New Covenant connection between Christians and God.

Cline continues her analysis of Yom Kippur and her self-analysis:

And I have seen my smallness, too. I have seen my propensity to be critical, cold and judgmental. I have seen my ability to be harsh and cruel. And I have seen the pain I have inflicted on others and myself in these states – the sadness, the depression, the hostility. I have seen my lethargy, my disconnection and my self-pity.

But this year, my darkness is juxtaposed with my light. I realize that change is actually possible. I am not doomed to isolation, meanness and small mindedness.

This Yom Kippur, I can feel the pain of not being in a state of connection and own the consequences of my choices. I can say to God, “This is not me,” and mean it. I feel repentant, not from fear – but from a genuine desire for connection, love and transcendence. Getting in touch with my higher self that yearns to be good has enabled me to sense the sadness of my past choices.

What is frustration and a sense of separation from God juxtaposed with? Not necessarily satisfaction and closeness, but the realization is that a life of faith is not as hopeless as it sometimes seems. Neither is a human life, which is fraught with mistakes, carelessness, thoughtlessness, stumbling, and disappointment. Where is the path of devotion I’m supposed to be walking on?

Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, O living God.

-Amidah, Ten Days of Penitence

What is the meaning of “for Your sake?” How can the extension of life to a person be for the sake of God?

We might read the verse a bit differently. “Inscribe us into the book of a life that is lived for Your sake.” In other words, we pray not only for life, but for a quality of life that is meaningful and purposeful, one that will be lived for the greater glory of God.

Some people find life boring, and it is little wonder that such people seek escape from its boredom. Some turn to intoxicating chemicals, and others to a quest for thrills and entertaining pastimes which, while not destructive, have no purpose except an escape.

But why should there be a need to escape? Why should life ever be boring? A person whose goal is to amass great wealth never tires of adding more to his already sizable fortune. If we have the kind of goal in life that allows us to add to it continually, we will never be bored.

Of course, we wish to be inscribed in the book of life, but it should be a life that we wish to be in rather than one that we seek to escape from.

Today I shall…

try to enrich my life by living it according to the Divine will, bringing greater glory to His Name – and therefore greater meaning to my life.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each DAy, Tishrei 4”

Getting sick and tired and frustrated with God and toddling off to play with other toys is the same as trying to escape from our own lives. Our lives are lived, whether we choose to be aware of it or not, for the sake of God. He created us. He fashioned us in the “hidden places” of our mothers’ wombs. He molded us to fit the purpose of our lives. We will truly never discover who we are and what we’re doing here until we live our lives for the sake of our Creator.

Standing before GodYom Kippur isn’t just about repenting of sin and being inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. It’s about living a life that is realized in the existence of God. The day when we permanently stop seeking God’s hidden face, we stop seeking ourselves and we completely lose our way. Our true purpose becomes an unattainable goal, and frustration and futility become our constant companions.

When Moses died, the bitterness of knowing that the Children of Israel would reject the God of Sinai was balanced by the very Presence of God in his life and after his life. If the Jewish people failed, they also succeeded and even today, are with us in the world, continuing to point us to the path of devotion, particularly though Israel’s “first-born son,” Jesus Christ.

In frustration and even despair, we still can choose to fly with broken wings. Even bearing the weight of the chains of a thousand sins, by continuing to seek God and His purpose for our lives, we can soar with eagles.

Giving glory to the Name of God gives us the power to overcome and to stay the course. He is the path and He is our companion. Walk with Him. Take flight with Him. Even laugh with God on Yom Kippur.

One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes from Heaven and decrees, “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening, September 25th.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Good Shabbos.

Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Standing Before God

Standing before GodNo 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
Page 155

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

And yet:

Blessed by GodMore 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.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
Commentary on Torah Portion Nitzvaim: Standing Before G-d
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 398ff; Vol. XIX, p. 173ff

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

And yet:

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.

Good Shabbos.