Shabbat Shuva was Saturday, September 19, 2015. That’s the one Shabbat each year that always falls between Rosh Hashanna (the Jewish New Year) and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Shabbat Shuva means, ‘Sabbath of Return’. The word Shuva refers specifically to ‘a religious return’. It speaks of ‘repentance’. By repenting our sins, we return to G-d.
The ten days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur (this year, September 23, 2015) are about preparing for judgment. Shabbat Shuva is part of that preparation. When Shabbat Shuva ends, we understand that Yom Kippur—and G-d’s judgment—is very close.
Some Jews have a problem with G-d. He’s not visible. They say if they can’t see Him, He doesn’t exist.
They don’t understand that G-d is purposefully hidden. They don’t know about a Jewish concept called, Haster Panim, (the ‘hidden face’).
Too many Jews don’t understand the Biblical link between G-d hiding his ‘face’ and our behaviour. They don’t understand there’s a reason G-d is hidden.
On September 19, 2015, we read the weekly Torah portion called, Va’yeilech (D’varim, 31: 1-30). The only references in the Tanach (the Jewish Bible) to ‘Haster Panim’ (G-d hides His ‘face’) appear in this one Torah portion.
The concept of Haster Panim appears in two p‘sukim (sentences), (D’varim, 31:17-18). In these sentences, Haster Panim is linked to punishment: Israel will forsake HaShem; it will ‘annul’ its covenant with Him. Therefore, HaShem will hide his ‘face’. Israel will suffer.
‘Haster Panim’ (G-d hides His ‘face’) is about cause and effect. It’s about behaviour-and-punishment.
It’s more than a concept. It’s a reality. It’s our reality. We know that from our prayers—and our history.
We see that in our Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur and other holiday prayers (in the Musaf service). Those prayers say, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land”.
Exile is punishment. That punishment has almost always been administered by the nations.
Our current exile began 1,945 years ago. That’s when G-d hid His ‘face’ from us.
It’s still hidden.
Jews don’t like that. They don’t understand the link between our rebellion and the fact that G-d hides His ‘face’ as a consequence of that rebellion.
When G-d punishes us by hiding His ‘face’ from us (D’varaim 31:17-18), we react. Our Torah (ibid) tells us exactly how we do that: we blame G-d for our self-induced woes.
We say our troubles come because G-d is absent (a loose translation of 31:17, above). We claim, in other words, that we suffer because G-d walked away from us. We blame our sorrows on Him, not our behaviour.
Today, many complain, that G-d doesn’t help us because he’s absent. He’s absent, they say, because He doesn’t exist.
The Jewish Commentator Malbim (1809-1879) anticipated that complaint. He says it’s wrong. G-d’s absence is not proof He doesn’t exist. It’s proof He does exist.
It’s proof He exists because of these two Biblical sentences (D’varim, above). These sentences set the stage for that proof. They predict the future.
We’ll rebel against G-d. G-d will punish us by hiding His ‘face’ from us. When G-d hides, we’ll say he doesn’t exist.
But of course, we suffer because we walk away from Him. He told us we would do that. He promised we would suffer. He promised He would ‘hide’ from us. He predicted we would blame Him.
That’s exactly how some Jews behave.
They’re so predictable, these Jews. They betray Israel. They work to destroy Israel. They hate the Torah. They hate G-d.
When G-d doesn’t protect them, they’re shocked. They cry out at G-d, ‘how DARE you?’ They claim that if G-d won’t protect them even as they sin, He doesn’t exist.
Our Tanach teaches us repeatedly that’s not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Yom Kippur is Wednesday, September 23, 2015. During these days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, we have the opportunity to recalibrate how we relate to our G-d before we stand before Him. We should recalibrate carefully because the nations are eager to punish us. They’re eager to bring evil upon Israel.
The Jewish people live with a Jewish-only formula. If we sin, G-d will hide His face and the nations will punish us.
Yes, the formula is far more complex than that. But this is part of it. We can’t reject G-d’s covenant. We can’t do whatever we want.
It doesn’t work that way in Judaism.
The nations validate that truth. Their successes against us should remind us of our rebellion, not G-d’s absence.
We have to recalibrate. We have to reboot. We have to change how we relate to G-d.
Return to HaShem.
If we return to Him, He will return to us: His ‘face’ will no longer be hidden.
Then, our Redemption will begin.