Was the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile a result of Hashem turning a blind eye to the atrocities of our enemies and giving them free reign to rampage as they please, or was it a calculated punishment from Hashem meted out to us with precision and love? These are the two positions that arise from Yeshayau’s words in the Shiv’a de-Nechemtaas we presented them over the past two weeks.
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This philosophical question (along with its very real and existential emotions) has a number of possible reconciliations. I would like to present a particular direction here which I feel also serves as an apt conclusion to this series.
The Seforno (on Devarim 31) explains that the concept of Hester Panim (Hashem withdrawing his Providence from us) does not mean that Hashem makes Himself blind and impotent. In fact, Hashem is ever-present and omnipotent. So what then is hester panim? Although Hashem chooses to “take a step back” and allow people and nature to take their course; He nevertheless presides over all, watching carefully, with the ability to reverse His hester panim and intervene at any given time. This might explain the well-known idea that the Egyptian slavery was cut short from 400 years to 210 because of the severity of their conditions. Hashem had established at Brit ben ha-Betarim (Breshit 15) that we would be slaves for 400 years – essentially relinquishing control of us to the Egyptians. Yet when the bondage became unbearable and we cried out to Him, Hashem intervened and redeemed us. Thus the frightening aspect of Hashem not being in control has been neutralized.
This concept is taken one step further by the Abarbanel’s commentary on a verse in the Shiv’a de-Nechmta relating to the exile and the redemption: 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 and with great mercy I will gather you in. With anger I hid My face from you for a moment…” (Is 54:7). Abarbanel takes the word רֶגַע (moment) and reads it as רֹגַָע (calm, relaxed) thus rendering the verse to mean: “I have left you with little calm … I have hidden the face of calmness from you”. The resultant meaning of the verse is that Hashem Himself actively put us as a nation into a state of unrest and lack of calm by sending us into exile. The Abarbanel seems to concur with Seforno that Hashem can actively place us into a state of hester panim and can similarly return us to his Providence. The tremendous implication is that being in exile is tantamount to hester panim!
Life in the Land of Israel is intimately bound with Hashem’s protective gaze: “ארץ אשר תמיד עיני ה’ אלוקיך בה – The Land on which Hashem’s eyes are constantly focused” (Devarim 11:12). This is a land where life is sometimes tenuous and often seems to hang by a thread – which leads us to rely heavily on the Divine protection and Providence. Life in the Diaspora on the other hand is bereft of this intimate relationship with Hashem. In the words of the Gemara “He who lives in Israel is like one who has a God and he who lives in the diaspora is like one who has no God” (Ketubot 110b). The mere act of leaving the land is a transition into a new reality of hester panim.
Thus we can reconcile Yeshayahu’s seemingly contradictory statements: The destruction and exile were conscious, active decisions of Hashem – the result of which was a state of hester panim for the nation while in exile. Those who choose to come and live in the Land today and fulfill the prophecies of yore – merit to return to the ever-present, protective gaze of Hashem Himself.