Torah Reading for Week of March 8-14, 2020
“The Hidden God?”
By Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
When Moses tarries in returning down the mountain, according to the Israelites’ counting, they panic and feel they have lost their connection through Moses to God. They haven’t yet created for themselves a direct channel of faith that will sustain them through this time of uncertainty. They turn to what is more familiar from their past in Egypt… a golden idol of a calf. Not a cow like the Egyptian Cow God but a little molten calf, which will have to do. Aaron tries to postpone their worship until the next day, but their desire for a visible, tangible evidence of God’s Presence pushes them to focus on it as if this idol represents the deity “who brought you up from Egypt” (Ex.32:4).
Soon the people will reconnect with Moses who will bring them a second set of tablets after breaking the first set. He threw the first set down in disgust, shattering them, or else, according to midrash, (Avot de Rabbi Nathan A2, and a reference in Pseudo Philo) the letters flew back up to heaven and the stone tablets were blank and became heavy without the divine words inscribed on them, then fell to the ground, shattered, yet retaining their status as holy. They would be included in the Ark and carried along with the unbroken new set of commandment-utterances.
When is God hidden? Perhaps when we look away or forget to seek a connection with the Holy One. In Megillat Esther, the scroll read at Purim, God does not appear and could be said to be hidden, nistar. Yet, God’s hand, guidance, and protection permeate the story. Indeed, God’s Four-letter Holy Name appears in Chapter 5:4 in the initials of the words Yavo Hamelech v’Haman ha-yom, and in other places as a hint of God’s presence although not stated literally. Mordechai has faith as he advises his niece Esther to prepare to enter the King’s chamber as a very courageous act, to plead for the survival of her people. She fasts and prays, and it is clear, that her emunah -faith – keeps up her spirit in this perilous act. The very name Megillat Esther contains the Hebrew roots of galui – revealed, and nistar – hidden.
When we doubt that God is present; indeed there are times when the God of the Covenant appears to be absent. Yet, God’s hand somehow appears when we turn to the Merciful Healer of Souls and look for God’s hand in our destiny. As the Daughter of Holocaust Survivors, I have often wondered where God was during the Holocaust… Hidden? Absent? Yet, there were so many tales of courage and miraculous survival despite the tragic loss of so many. I try to live in gratitude for my mother’s survival and how she acted with courage like a modern day Esther (her favorite Biblical character), and began a new family in a new world, and made it possible for me to serve my people now as a rabbi.
We can be in despair at times, but must learn not to turn to shiny but empty idols of gold, but rather to seek out the hidden hand of God, guiding us through the dangers and losses that are inevitable in our life journey. Our ancestors learned to hold on to faith through the wilderness, through the Diaspora, through history; and, like Esther of the Purim Megillah, we cannot lose hope but rather use all our talents and soul-strength to fulfill the Commandments, the utterances of justice and fairness, and plead for compassion in the face of cruelty. Thus we make God not nistar but galui – not hidden but revealed.