Hidden Presence

parashas insights: Yisro 5782

“Search for the L-rd and His might, continually seek His countenance.”

– Psalm 105:4

G-d’s presence in this world (olam hazeh) is hidden. Yet, He yearns that we seek for Him. Our seeking is more than a hide-and-seek game; to seek G-d also includes preparing ourselves for the encounter, when we find Him. For, His “supernal holiness” (Zohar 3, 297a) may only fill a vessel that has emptied itself in surrender to G-d’s will. Thus, through sanctification, our lives may be sanctified as a preparation for encountering G-d’s Presence.

How may our lives be sanctified? Traditionally, our lives are sanctified through observance of the commandments. “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…” Moreover, because the Torah and G-d are one, His light is revealed within the world through the observance of mitzvos (commandments). If divine light is brought into the world through our positive actions in this world, then we ourselves are a light unto the world (Isaiah 42:6). So, as we are sanctified through the observance of mitzvos, the world also receives the positive benefit of our observance.

In this week’s Torah reading, parashas Yisro, B’nei Yisrael assembles at the base of Mount Sinai. Moses is given a set of instructions, in order that the Children of Israel may prepare themselves: “And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow” (Exodus 19:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This is in preparation for the third day, when the L-RD will descend upon Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:11). “O L-RD, bow Thy heavens, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke” (Psalms 144:5, JPS).

How is it possible for H’Shem to descend on Sinai? Only inasmuch that the heavens were stretched like a bow, so that H’Shem could be simultaneously in Shomayim, and on the top of Mt. Sinai (Mechilta). Yet, this may also be explained through the metaphorical language of tzimtzum: that He descended on Sinai by way of the many levels of contractions, between heaven and earth, until His Presence, hidden within the cloud (Exodus 19:9), revealed itself to Moshe, while from the vantage point of the people, all that could be seen was the thunder, lightning, and smoke (Exodus 19:18, 20:15).

G-d’s Presence in the World

TANYA Insights: 11 Shevat (leap year) 5782

“By the word of the L-RD were the heavens made; and all the hosts of them by the breath of His mouth. ”– Psalm 33:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

A Chassidic perspective emphasizes the need for the continual maintenance of the universe – G-d’s Creation – through His will that constantly maintains the existence of the world. Without His continual presence as the force that sustains the world, the world would cease to exist. In reading today’s passage from the TANYA, I thought how this idea can be compared to an event in this week’s Torah reading. Namely, when “Moses held out his arm over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state” (Exodus 14:27, JPS 1985 Tanach).

Inasmuch that “the sea returned to its normal state,” this connotes the understanding that the normal laws of gravity were restored to the sea. For, two towering walls of water had formed a corridor for B’nei Yisrael to cross through the Sea of Reeds, to be safely ensconced on the other shore. As the Egyptians pursued the Children of Israel, these walls collapsed upon them, drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. The restoration to natural law, and the subsequent collapse of the sea walls was signaled by Moshe’s act of holding “his arm over the sea.”

At that point H’Shem relinquished His influence over gravity, thus causing the sea to be restored to its original natural state. The TANYA passage relates how that if H’Shem caused His Will to cease from maintaining the Universe, all would return to its former state of nothingness, before the beginning of time. Clearly, the example given above is a more comprehensible occurrence, whereas, mankind can hardly conceive of the world ceasing to exist. It would be like a computer without electricity – blank screen.

Metaphorically, this should help us to better appreciate the presence of G-d in the world, that animates all spheres of life, plant, animal and human, as well as inanimate objects such as stones, precious metals, and the different layers of the earth, not to mention the artistic beauty of the skies, especially at sunrise and sunset. Shiveesee H’Shem l’negdi tamid – I am ever mindful of the L-RD’s presence (Psalm 16:8).


When merged

within the singsong chant

of a chassidic melody,

the congregant’s souls become one

for a brief moment, encapsulated

by the deveykus (connection)

to G-d that is fostered

by the unity.

~~~~~ ~~~~~

The sway

of the congregants

while davening (praying),

like flickering flames on candles,

reaching toward heaven,

assist the soul’s yearning

for deveykus (connection).