Hiding and Revealing the Face by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)
YHWH, in your pleasure You made me stand mountain-strong.—When You hid Your face, I was stricken (Psalms 30:8).
One portrait of the hiding
The blessed Holy One’s face is not revealed, that is, He does not act with one according to His name “The Good who does good” (Birkhat ha-Mazon) [cf. BT Ta’anit 31a]. Rather, to the contrary: he is afflicted by Him, suffers from a poor livelihood, and many wish to collect their debts from him and embitter his life. His entire day is filled with nothing but trouble and worry. He suffers from poor health and is disrespected by people. Any undertaking he starts he fails to finish, and he is constantly frustrated.
In this manner, of course he does not see the blessed Holy One’s good face, that is, if he believes that the blessed Holy One does these things to him, either as punishment for transgressions or to ultimately reward him. This follows the verse, For who YHWH loves He rebukes (Proverbs 3:12), and also, “The righteous begin with suffering” (Naḥmanides on Genesis 27:29), since the blessed Holy One wishes to eventually bestow abundant peace on him [cf. Psalms 126:5: They who sow in tears in glad song will reap; Zohar 2:187a: ‘All beginnings are hard, and their endings soft’].
Yet, he does not fail by exclaiming that all this befell him according to blind fate and nature without any reckoning or knowledge. Rather, he strengthens his trust in the blessed Holy One, whose providence caused him all this. Nevertheless, this is considered seeing the blessed Holy One’s back.
A second portrait of the hiding
The books refer to הַסְתֵּר בְּתוֹך הַסְתֵּר (ha-seter betokh ha-seter), “hiding within the hiding,” meaning one cannot see even the back of the blessed Holy One. Instead, he exclaims that the blessed Holy One has left him and no longer watches over him. He ascribes all the sufferings he feels to blind fate and to nature, since the ways of providence become exceedingly tangled in his eyes that they lead him to denial [of the blessed Holy One], perish the thought. This means that he prays and gives charity for his troubles but is not answered whatsoever. And precisely when he stops praying for his troubles, he is answered. Whenever he perseveres, trusts in providence, and improves his deeds, success turns away from him and he mercilessly declines. And when he abandons [the blessed Holy One] and begins to regress in his deeds, he becomes very successful and is greatly relieved [cf. Zohar 3:276b (RM)].
He does not find livelihood in a proper way, but through deceit or desecration of the Sabbath, and so on. All of his acquaintances who are masters of Torah and mitsvot suffer poverty, illness, and are despised by people. People who keep mitsvot seem to him lacking in common decency, born fools, and so hypocritical that he cannot tolerate their company for even a moment [cf. M Avot 2:2: ‘Rabban Gamliel son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi said: It is good to combine Torah study with דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ (derekh erets), common decency (or: a worldly occupation, lit., way of the land), for the effort involved in both makes one forget sin’].
But all his wicked acquaintances, who mock his faithfulness, are very successful, well to do, and healthy. They know no illness, are clever, virtuous, and well-mannered. They are without worry, confident, and calm the whole day, continually.
And when providence arranges things in this way for a man, it is called “hiding within the hiding.” For then, perish the thought, he collapses under his weight and cannot persevere in the trust that his suffering comes from the blessed Holy One for some indiscernible reason. Finally he fails, becomes a heretic, and, perish the thought, says that the blessed Holy One does not watch over His creatures whatsoever, and all that befalls him transpires according to blind fate and nature. This is not seeing even the back.
A portrait of revealing the Face
However, once he has completely revealed the תַבלִין (tavlin), spice—the light of Torah—which man inhales into his body by his strengthening of trust in the blessed Holy One, he becomes worthy of providence with His face revealed. This means that the blessed Holy One acts with him as befits His name, “The Good who does good.”
He discovers that he receives abundant goodness and great peace from the blessed Holy One and is always satisfied. For he obtains his livelihood with ease and to the fullest, never experiencing trouble or pressure, knows no illness, is highly respected by people, effortlessly accomplishes any plan that enters his mind, and succeeds wherever he turns.
When he wishes for something, he prays and he is instantaneously answered, as He always answers anything that he demands of Him, and not a single prayer is denied. When he strengthens his good deeds, he succeeds even more, and when he is negligent, his success decreases proportionally.
All of his acquaintances are honest, have a good livelihood and good health. They are highly respected in the eyes of people and have no worries at all. They are at peace all day, continually. They are smart, men of truth, possess a good appearance, and he feels blessed to be among them. But all of his acquaintances who do not follow the way of Torah have a poor livelihood, are troubled by heavy debts, and fail to find even a single moment’s rest. They suffer illness in pain, and are loathsome in the eyes of people. They seem to him inane, lacking in common decency, wicked, cruel, and flatterers full of lies such that it is intolerable to keep their company.
His blessed Name shows us that He is good and does good to all His creatures in every manner of benefit, and sufficient for every type among Israel. Certainly, the pleasure of one is not like the pleasure of another. For example, one who engages in wisdom will not take pleasure in honor and wealth, and one who does not engage in wisdom will not take pleasure in great attainment and innovating in wisdom. Thus, He gives wealth and honor to one, and wondrous attainment in wisdom to another.
A man’s demand to become stronger in his trust in the blessed Holy One’s providence over the world during a time of hiding brings him to murmur in books of Torah [cf. Psalms 1:2: But YHWH’s teaching is his desire, and His teaching he murmurs day and night], and to take from there the insight and understanding of how to strengthen his trust in His providence. The insights that he receives are called תוֹרָה תַבלִין (torah tavlin), “antidote of Torah,” until they reach a certain measure, when the blessed Holy One has compassion on him and pours upon him the spirit from on high—supernal abundance.
In summary: A portrait of hiding the Face
- Suffering torments such as lack of livelihood, poor health, humiliations, failing to achieve plans, personal doubt, such that he keeps himself from troubling his companion.
- Praying without being answered. When he improves his deeds he declines, but when he regresses in his deeds he is very successful. There is no chance of earning a living in a proper way, only through deceit and theft, or by desecrating the Sabbath.
- All of his honest acquaintances suffer poverty, ill health, and humiliations of all kinds, and his wicked acquaintances mock him everyday and successful, healthy, wealthy, and lead carefree lives.
- All of his righteous acquaintances who keep Torah and mitsvot seem cruel, egotistical, backwards, born fools, lacking in common decency, and great hypocrites. He finds them repulsive, even in the Garden of Eden, and cannot tolerate their company for a moment.
A portrait of revealing the Face
- Receiving good, abundant peace, and earning his livelihood with ease and to the fullest. He never feels stress or ill health, he is respected wherever he turns, and successfully and easily accomplishes any plan that enters his mind.
- When he prays, he is answered immediately. When he improves his deeds, he is very successful, and if he regresses in his deeds, he loses his success.
- All his acquaintances who walk along the upright path are wealthy, healthy, know no sickness, are highly respected in the eyes of the world, and dwell in peace and quiet. His acquaintances who do not walk along the upright path are without livelihood, filled with troubles, grief, illness, and are loathsome in the eyes of people.
- He regards all his righteous acquaintances as clever, reasonable, well-mannered, men of truth, and possessing of a good appearance such that it is a great pleasure to be in their company.