Where God is Hidden

No one knows where God is hidden. Not even the ministering angels who tend God’s Throne of Glory know where God can be found, nor do the heavenly creatures who carry the Throne, for God has encircled Himself with darkness and cloud all around, as it is said, He made darkness his screen (Ps. 18:12). Indeed, some say that the true meaning of the verse, You hid Your face (Ps. 30:8) is that God is hidden from Himself.
— Howard Schwartz, The Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, p.13

The passage goes on to explain that this might be “about the absence of God” or “a metaphor for the hidden nature of God: just as no person knows where his soul is located within himself, so too does no one know the place of God.” It also mentions teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, which “interprets “You hid Your face (Ps. 30:8) as meaning that God has turned his back on the Jewish people during the Exile” (Likutei Moharan).

Citations are to B. Sanhedrin 39a, Exodus Rabbah 23, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 4, and Masekhet Hekhalot 3.

PRE 4:6 says:

The Chayyoth stand next to the throne of His glory and they do not know the place of His glory.

Sanhedrin 39a includes:

The Emperor also said to Rabban Gamaliel: I know what your God is doing, and where He is seated. Rabban Gamaliel became, [as it were] overcome and sighed, and on being asked the reason, answered. ‘I have a son in one of the cities of the sea, and I yearn for him. Pray tell me about him.’ [footnote: Literally, ‘show him to me’] ‘Do I then know where he is,’ he replied. ‘You do not know what is on earth, and yet [claim to] know what is in heaven!’ he retorted.

I don’t have easy access to the other sources, and nothing in the material Schwartz presents directly elaborates on how or why God might be hidden from Godself. Thoughts and additional sources most welcome!
 

 
4 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community.

Whole series (so far)

Exploring Kaddish: Some Resources and an Invitation

UPDATED 7/27 : See clarification on Aramaic and names of God below. Also see post-Siddur Study “More on Kaddish” resources and notes.

KaddishIs Kaddish — in its various forms — “prayer,” as in some combination of praise, request and/or submission to God? Or is it a recitation, more like the Shema? Is it a mystical device? Or punctuation, signaling a tone-shift in prayer services? None or all of the above? And where does “praying for the dead” figure? Explore.

Has this prayer, recited so often in Jewish services, become such a fixture that you no longer process its meaning? Were you, perhaps, taught to recite the ancient language without understanding the Aramaic words? Some creative translations and alternative readings can help break through the kaddish-trance.

Temple Micah’s lay-led Siddur Study group will be exploring the questions above and others on July 26.  Materials are here to whet the appetite and for those who cannot join us in person. No background in Hebrew or prayer is needed. No preparation required. All are welcome.

(Meetings generally begin roughly half an hour after morning services end, i.e., sometime between noon and 12:30 p.m. in the summertime.)

Join Siddur Study at Temple Micah in person, July 26.
If you’re not in our physical neighborhood,

join us virtually by posting comments or questions here.


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Purposefully Blue

The peculiar blue [תכלת, tekhelet] thread used in tzitzit [ritual fringes] (Numbers 15:37-41) also appears prominently in the construction of Tabernacle (Exodus 25ff). It is used in the inner curtains and the loops that connect them; it also appears throughout the priestly vestments.

Why this blue?

It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: Why is blue [תכלת] specified from all the varieties of colours? Because blue resembles [the colour of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the colour of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the colour of] the Throne of Glory, as it is said: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone [לבנת הספיר], and as it were the very heaven for clearness (Exod. 24:10) and it is written: The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone [אֶבֶן-סַפִּיר] (Ezek 1:26).
— Sotah 17a (also: Menachot 43b and Chullin 89a)

Kedushat Levi links the above passage about blue, תכלת, to the stages of a creative act, beginning and ending with its purpose [תכלית]:

[A project from thought to completion] has undergone four distinct stages. 1) original mental image of the project; 2) clarification of the details, etc. 3) translating thought into deed. 4) carrying out the intention which originally prompted the project. [Punctuation follows translation.] When the original mental image of the project is seen reflected after its successful completion, the person inhabiting this building will experience a sense of satisfaction and joy.
— Kedushat Levi, p. 475 (see Source Materials for full citation)

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Folding, Half-Shekels, and Ego

One of the 30-cubit, goat-hair curtains on the outside of the Tabernacle is folded over the front of the tent (Exodus 26:9; see Thirty Cubits and Cloaking) for more on the curtains). Two aspects of this are emphasized in the commentary of Kedushat Levi, among others:

Folding: Folding [כפל, khaphal] is related to the idea of “klipah” [קלפה], the protective shell covering God’s Light in the world, according to mystical teaching. Kedushat Levi links the folding of the curtain and God’s cloaking, to protect humans from what they cannot withstand, adding that “folding over” implies reinforcing something not otherwise as strong as necessary. (Kedushat Levi, p. 473; full citations for Kedushat Levi, Stone Chumash in Source Materials.)

Half: Kedushat Levi also emphasizes the fact that the curtain is folded in half. He links “half” to “awe” through a play on the Hebrew words: the curtain, folded in “half” [חצי, chatzi], is linked via “crush” [מחץ, machatz] to “awe.” (More below.)

Additional thoughts on the concept of “half,” regarding the command to collect a half-shekel as part of the census embedded in the Tabernacle story, suggest a different direction:

Many commentators interpret homelitically that the requirement of half a coin alludes to the concept that no Jew is complete unless he joins with others; as long as we are in isolation, each of us is only “half” of our full potential.
— Stone Chumash, on Exodus 30:13

Combining these views on folding and half seem to suggest that any approach to God is best accomplished in community.
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Thirty Cubits in the Tabernacle

The inside of the Tabernacle, the desert worship space of the Israelites, is 30 cubits long. (This is worked out from directions for various components, described in Exodus 26-27.) An inside covering is composed of ten panels of “twisted linen, and indigo and purple and crimson, with cherubim, designer’s work,” each measuring 28 cubits by 4 cubits (Alter’s translation; citation below). Eleven goat-hair panels of 30 cubits by 4 cubits create an additional covering over the whole construction. (Explicit instructions in Exodus 26:1 and 26:7).

The inside coverings are joined so “that the Tabernacle be one whole” (Exodus 26:6).

26:6) that the Tabernacle be one whole
This phrase leads Abraham ibn Ezra to muse over how unity in the greater world is constituted by an interlocking of constituent parts that become a transcendent whole, as in the unity of microcosm and macrocosm. One need not read this section homelitically, as he does, in order to see the power of summation of this particular phrase.
— Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. (NY: Norton, 2004)

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Legends of Luz

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3), opens with Jacob, en route from his parents’ home to the land of his mother’s people. He stops for the night and dreams of a ladder, its top in heaven and its bottom on earth, with angels traveling up and down. In the dream, God is “standing over him” and speaking to him. Upon awakening, Jacob names the place “Beth-El [House of God].” The Torah adds: “but previously the name of the city had been Luz.”

Rabbinic and later Jewish tradition offer a variety of comments on the two place names and their connection to Jacob’s experience. This post and tomorrow’s briefly explore two of these name-threads:
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In the Thirtieth Year [of what?]

The Book of Ezekiel begins “in the thirtieth year.”

Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.

וַיְהִי בִּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה, בָּרְבִיעִי בַּחֲמִשָּׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ,
וַאֲנִי בְתוֹךְ-הַגּוֹלָה, עַל-נְהַר-כְּבָר; נִפְתְּחוּ, הַשָּׁמַיִם, וָאֶרְאֶה, מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים.

— Ezekiel, 1:1
— (“old”) JPS trans. (1917), borrowed from Mechon-Mamre

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