This week I was talking to a high-school student. She was describing the recess/lunch scene and how lonely it could be and all I could think was that the more things change the more they stay the same. I remember not being able to find my place in high school. I remember feeling like no one understood me. Granted I went to a very very small school and didn’t have a vast variety of people in my grade, but I think those feelings and the isolation that goes with them is pretty universal. Why do so many of us feel that way at different points in our lives? Like there is no place for us. And even after we find “our people,” people that we can depend on, there are times that we still feel so alone.
A couple of weeks ago we read Parshas Bamidbar and we learned about how the camp of Bnei Yisrael was set up in the Midbar. The Mei HaShiloach uses the mashal of a farmer planting an orchard to describe how precious each tribe and each person in the camp was to Hashem. The farmer plants each tree exactly where it is supposed to be and because he put them all in their places, he would notice if one was missing. So it is with Hashem and us. Hashem placed each one of us in this world and He notices us.
That should be a comforting and strengthening idea….except that we live in a world where Hashem’s presence is so hidden that holding onto this idea is a huge challenge.
Hashem Himself hides His presence from us for numerous reasons. Two of them are: 1) that He wants the world to run in a normative way and 2) that He wants us to seek Him.
In the first case, as explained by the Alter Rebbe in the Shaar HaYichud VeHaEmunah of Tanya, Hashem is literally creating the world every single second of every single day with the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. He is repeatedly pouring the energy of each object into it in the correct format for that object to look the way it does and act the way it does. The Tanya explains that this energy must be concealed by the physical presence of the object in order for a world to exist. Because if the physical object did not exist, all we would see would be G-dly energy and no world. By definition then, the world as we see it exists as a concealment of G-dliness.
In the second case, as explained in countless holy books, Hashem created the world with a system of free choice. If G-dliness was readily apparent to everyone at all times, it would be no big deal to choose holiness, it would be no great feat to conquer our yetzer harah (evil inclination) and do the right thing. But in hiding Himself, He gave human beings the power and opportunity to develop a desire to seek Him out and grow into deeper, more connected people.
In 1949, the Boyaner Rebbe, Reb Mordechai Shlomo zt’l, was travelling to Israel by plane. His gabbai, who had never been in a plane before, was overcome with emotion when he saw the Swiss Alps from the air. He wanted to share this sight of Hashem’s magnificent world with the Rebbe, but the Rebbe was engrossed in his learning and didn’t look up. Finally, not wanting the Rebbe to miss this singular experience, he begged the Rebbe to look at the “niflaos haBorei– the wonders of The Creator” that were outside the window. The Rebbe raised his hand and said “Mibesori echeze Elokay– from my flesh I can see G-d” and went back to his sefer.
What was the Rebbe seeing? Was he seeing the energy of Hashem that was creating him? Was he seeing his own existence as one of Hashem’s wonders? Was he saying that Hashem exists in the same wondrous way in all of creation? That looking at a hand stirred up in him the same amazement and reverence for Hashem as did looking at a magnificent mountain?
For a long time, I have been obsessed with the idea of seeing the world with these kinds of eyes- spiritual eyes. Seeing beyond what our eyes tell us is right in front of us, “seeing” with our hearts and souls rather than with our physical eyes. If we could “see” this way, maybe we could “see” Hashem’s acknowledgement and love for us in the very fact of our existence. If we could “see” ourselves and others in this way, we would know that each one of us was planted in Hashem’s orchard and that each one of us is here because Hashem deems it essential that we be here.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that Hashem hides Himself (as if) behind a curtain, waiting for us to seek Him out and reveal His presence. But he also taught that when we know this fact, that Hashem is hiding from us, then it’s like the hiddenness is already gone.
I bless us all with the courage to look for Hashem in every aspect of this world, with the strength to hold on to the knowledge that He is waiting for us to seek Him, with the chutzpah to feel His faith in us, and with the eyes to “see” Him.