Our history has not always been rosy. We have experienced tranquility, peace, and spiritual greatness, yet we have also experienced terrible exile, destruction, and persecution. Indeed, on the last day of Moses’ life, G‑d tells him what will befall the people when they abandon G‑d:
"And the L‑rd said to Moses: Behold, you are [about to] lie with your forefathers, and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land, into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them.
And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will befall them, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our G‑d is no longer among us, that these evils have befallen us?"
These harsh words were not merely to warn the Jewish people of the consequences for abandoning their destiny. Perhaps more importantly, the purpose was to ensure that the people would correctly interpret and respond to the difficult exile.
The natural response to the “many evils and troubles” would be for the people to believe that G‑d “is no longer among us.” Yet, as G‑d told Moses, that conclusion would be categorically incorrect:
"And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities."
We are here as Jews today, because generations of Jews understood this truth: That the exile is not the absence of G‑d’s love and presence, but merely a concealment of His grace. “I will hide My face on that day,” says G‑d, and the Jewish people understood that hiding is by no means an abandonment. They felt G‑d’s presence even in the most difficult circumstances.
And then came the mystics, who understood that all existence is dependent upon G‑d, and that there is no place devoid of Him. When they looked at darkness, they understood that although G‑d’s presence is not revealed, His essence is still present. They understood that the most powerful message in the verse “And I will hide My face on that day,” is not that G‑d will hide, but that even within the concealment, He is very much present.
Every year, this portion is read in proximity to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we engage in introspection, and seek atonement and spiritual betterment, looking back at the moments of joy and inspiration, but also the darkness and hurt of the past year. The Torah teaches that specifically in the moments of concealment lies the potential to reach the deepest part of ourselves. When we feel no inspiration, no excitement, no enthusiasm, we must understand that the concealment is a tool to encourage us to reach deeper within ourselves, to get in touch with our own core. Doing so will allow us to discover that within the concealment we can access the deepest Divine strength, and, ultimately, transform the darkness into light.
by Menachem Feldman