Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great religious teachers and moral prophets of the 20th Century, tells the story of Rabbi Baruch’s grandchild who was playing hide-and-seek with another boy. He hid himself and stayed in his hiding place for a long time, assuming that his friend would look for him. Finally, he went out and saw that his friend was gone, apparently not having looked for him at all, and that his own hiding had been in vain. He ran into the study of his grandfather, crying and complaining about his friend. Upon hearing the story, Rabbi Baruch broke into tears and said: “God, too, says: ‘I hide, but there is no one to look for me.’ ”
From this story Rabbi Heschel writes that there are times when defeat is all we face, when horror is all that faith must bear. And yet, in spite of anguish, in spite of terror we are never overcome with ultimate dismay. “Even that it would please God to destroy me; that He would let loose his hand and cut me off, then should I yet have comfort, yea, I would exult even in my pain; let him not spare me, for I have not denied the words of the holy One” (Job 6:9-10)
The Jewish people have suffered many atrocities and genocide and undoubtedly wondered where God was hiding. And today with terror occurring in many parts of our world the number of refugees is overwhelming. People are looking for peace and safety and an opportunity to make a new life for themselves. They probably ask where God is to save them from the sadness and horror they must bear.
In the story of Job, Job comes to terms with his distress and manages to be faithful to the God he has known even in his troubles. And others in similar distress don’t look for God to come out of hiding as if God were somewhere “out there.” Rather, they listen to the heartbeat of God within them — the pulse of the Spirit — the breath that still keeps them alive. For them God is not hiding. God is as close to them as their breath. If God is hiding he does so where we often fail to look — inside of ourselves. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn about God. And the more we know God, the more we know ourselves.
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published, Fe. 11, 2016.