Last week we presented the classic view that the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile actually reflect a strong relationship of love and care from Hashem towards Am Yisrael. Had he not cared for us, He would not have taken such a drastic step. Perhaps He would merely have allowed things to take their “natural” course which would have lead to the ultimate obliteration of the Jewish people. This is somewhat similar to the doctor who amputates a limb because he cares about saving the life of the patient. The implication for us is that the destruction itself actually becomes a source of comfort.
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Yeshayahu however presents an alternative, seemingly opposing way of looking at the destruction in the haftarafollowing the previous quote: “בְּרֶגַע קָטֹן עֲזַבְתִּיךְ; וּבְרַחֲמִים גְּדֹלִים אֲקַבְּצֵךְ. בְּשֶׁצֶף קֶצֶף הִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי רֶגַע מִמֵּךְ, וּבְחֶסֶד עוֹלָם רִחַמְתִּיךְ אָמַר גֹּאֲלֵךְ, ה’. – I have abandoned you in a small moment…With anger I hid My face from you for a moment…”. This is not the theological premise that Hashem Himself inflicted upon us the destruction. This is quite the opposite – Hashem seemingly abandoned us! The destruction and exile were enabled only because Hashem left us open to the elements (albeit for only a small moment) and did NOT intervene on our behalf. The destruction therefore represents a breach in our connection with Hashem and shows that He seemingly does NOT care about us. It follows from this that had He really cared about us He would not have allowed the destruction to take place at all. It is only because He ignored us and “turned a blind eye” that the evil was able to succeed.
On both a personal and a national level this is a very frightening concept. As opposed to last week where we portrayed Hashem as always orchestrating all events (even the bad ones), here Yeshayahu posits that there are times when Hashem seemingly relinquishes control. This concept first appears right at the end of Moshe Rabbenu’s life when Hashem introduces to him the term Hester Panim (Hiding the Face): “וְחָרָה אַפִּי בוֹ בַיּוֹם הַהוּא וַעֲזַבְתִּים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם, …וְאָנֹכִי, הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא. And My anger will burn on that day and I will leave them [Bnei Yisrael] and I will hide my face from them…I will surely hide My face on that day” (Dvarim 31). Hashem warns that there will be a time when Am Yisrael will turn away from the service of Hashem and will worship Avoda Zara instead. So great will His anger be then that He will hide his face from us.
What makes this hester panim so frightening? In every event that happens in our lives we are used to saying “Baruch Hashem this good thing happened”, or “With Hashem’s help we will succeed”, or even in times of mourning we realize that “Hashem gave and Hashem took, may His name be blessed.” This is the mainstay of our existence and helps us through life’s vicissitudes. To suddenly have that carpet pulled from under our feet and to realize that whatever happens now is purely random and up to the whims of those surrounding us is quite a scary thought. This is much more of a punishment than receiving a “slap in the face”, which although it may sting, at least it reflects Hashem’s concern for us.
And on a national scale too, this seems to disregard all those prophecies and statements of Chazal that reflect the exile as a direct punishment from Hashem, with precise accuracy of mida keneged mida – meting out justice in accordance with the crime. One case in point is found in Vayikra (26:34) אָז תִּרְצֶה הָאָרֶץ אֶת שַׁבְּתֹתֶיהָ כֹּל יְמֵי הֳשַׁמָּה וְאַתֶּם בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיכֶם אָז תִּשְׁבַּת הָאָרֶץ וְהִרְצָת אֶת שַׁבְּתֹתֶיהָ The length of the exile will be exactly equal to the number of Shemita years that the nation failed to allow the land to rest. Here we see Hashem’s hand directly involved in the exile! How then does hester panim fit into the picture?
Before we present some answers next week in our final piece in this series, I would appreciate hearing from you, the reader, how you would suggest reconciling these two opposing ideas: One the one hand, the destruction and exile have been portrayed as a direct punishment from Hashem, yet at the same time Yeshayahu states that they are a result of Hashem hiding his providence from us. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org by this Monday.
Rav Hillel Maizels is a former shaliach of TM in Cape Town, South Africa and is currently the Rabbi of Kehillat Ohel Efraim in the city of Ariel www.ohelefraim.wordpress.com . Starting this upcoming academic year, he will also be affiliated with the new “Bet Shalom” Shul in the Ariel University.