Why God Hides

Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat Vayeyleh

Deuteronomy (Devarim/דברים) 31

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur is always called the Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return.

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

In the Torah reading this week Moses in his farewell speech to the Children of Israel before he dies, says that he knows that they will abandon God and reject the Torah. He keeps on repeating this cynical, pessimistic view of the people. He knows what he is talking about because he has seen that regardless of the exodus, the miracles, and their survival in the desert, they do indeed keep going off the track. And it has continued this way since then to this very day. IN every generation many Jews have abandoned our Jewish way of life.

When this happens, Moses says, God turns away from us and leaves us to our own devices. The term used here is Hester Panim, literally God Hides the Face. It is one of the most moving concepts in Jewish mysticism. This beautiful metaphor of unrequited love and alienation increases the gap between us. God so to speak is there all the time for us to tap into that energy. And if we do, we will feel reciprocity, a sense of connection. Otherwise, God, so to speak turns a back on us.

But Moses insists, nevertheless, that the Torah, which he called a poem or a song several times, is a love poem between God and us and it should be written down and displayed for everyone to see in the hope that even if it is ignored, it will not be forgotten. And it is this that ensures our continuity and has been crucial in enabling us to come back and survive.

Moses in his speech has repeated seven times the idea of return, TeShuva. However much we Jews stray, there is always a chance to come back. The emphasis is on return, rather than repent. It is this idea of returning that gives its name to this Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur. We can repent at any time. But it is this communal experience of return during these ten days, the community spirit that reinforces our identities and our roots.

The song we sing is a love song to our heritage. True love is difficult to find. Love hurts, it often is hard work. It has to be reciprocal and when it is, there is nothing quite like it. And the same goes for our relationship with our people and our faith.

May your Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kipur be meaningful and inspirational wherever you are.


Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.