Providence According to Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)
But your crimes have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
Introduction to the Study of the Ten Sefirot (45–66):
When we closely examine the attainment of providence which people come to sense we find four classes. Each class receives individual providence by the blessed Holy One. In fact, there are only two such classes: הַסְתֵּר פָּנִים (ha-seter panim), the hiding Face, and גִלוּי פָּנִים (gilui panim), the revealed Face, but they are divided into four facets.
There are two facets in providence of the hiding Face, which are “single hiding” and “hiding within the hiding,” and two facets in the providence of the revealed Face: providence of “reward and punishment,” and “eternal providence.”
The verse says: And My wrath will flare against them on that day, and I shall forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will become fodder, and many evils and troubles will find them, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ And as for Me, I will surely hide My face on that day for all the evil that they have done, for they turned to other gods (Deuteronomy 31:17–18) [cf. Psalms 104:29; Zohar 1:115a (MhN) ad loc.].
When you investigate these words, you find that in the beginning it says, And My wrath will flare… and I shall… hide My face—a single hiding. Afterwards, it says, and many evils and troubles will find them… and… I will surely hide My face [lit., הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר (ha-seter astir), hide, I will hide…]—a double hiding. We must understand what “double hiding” is.
First we must understand the meaning of the “face” of the blessed Holy One, as is written, I shall hide My face. This is like a man who sees his friend’s face and recognizes him immediately. However, when he sees him from behind he is not sure of his identity. He wonders, saying “Perhaps he is not my friend.”
So too the matter before us: Everyone knows and senses that the blessed Holy One is good and that it is the conduct of the Good to do good. Therefore, when the blessed Holy One gives generously to His creatures, His face is regarded as revealed. This is because then everyone knows and senses Him, since He acts according to His name, as we have seen above concerning revealed providence [on “The Good who does good,” see BT Ta’anit 31a; Birkhat ha-Mazon].
Yet, when He acts with His creatures contrary to what we said above, meaning when they suffer affliction and torment in His world, it is regarded as the blessed Holy One’s “back.” This is because His face, meaning His quality of utter goodness, is entirely hidden from them, since this is not the conduct that befits His name. It is like a person who sees his friend from behind and may doubt, thinking “Perhaps he is another?”
It is written, And My wrath will flare… and I shall… hide My face. During the wrath, when people suffer trouble and pain, it means that the blessed Holy One is hiding His face, which is His utter goodness, and only His “back” is revealed. Then, great strengthening in one’s trust is needed to be vigilant against contemplating transgression, perish the thought, since it is difficult to recognize Him from behind. This is called “the first hiding.”
However, when troubles and grief accumulate to a great extent, it causes a second hiding, which the books call הַסְתֵּר בְּתוֹך הַסְתֵּר (ha-seter betokh ha-seter), “hiding within the hiding.” It means that even His back is unseen, perish the thought, meaning they do not believe that the blessed Holy One is angry with them and punishes them, but ascribe this to chance and nature, and come to deny His providence in reward and punishment. This is the meaning of, And as for Me, I will surely hide My face… for they turned to other gods—they speak heresy and turn to idol worshiping.
However, before that, when the verse speaks only from the perspective of one hiding, the verse ends, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ Meaning they still trust in the providence of reward and punishment, and say that the troubles and grief befall them because they do not cleave to the blessed Holy One, as is written, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ This is a facet of seeing the blessed Holy One, but only from behind. For that reason it is called “the first hiding,” merely hiding of the Face.
Now we have explained the two facets of apprehending hidden providence which people sense: “the first hiding” and “hiding within the hiding.” The first hiding relates only to hiding of the Face, while the back is revealed. This means that they trust that the blessed Holy One gave them the affliction as a punishment. And although it is hard for them to always know the blessed Holy One by His back, which causes them to transgress, even then they are considered “not completely wicked” [see BT Qiddushin 40b; Zohar 3:111a (RM)]. In other words, these transgressions are akin to being unintentional, because they befall them due to the increase in suffering, since, in general, they trust in reward and punishment.
“Hiding within the hiding” means that even the back of the blessed Holy One is hidden from them, as they do not trust in reward and punishment. Look, the transgressions in their hands are regarded as intentional wickedness. They are called “completely wicked” because they rebel and say that the blessed Holy One does not watch over His creatures at all, and turn to idolatry, as is written, for they turned to other gods, perish the thought.
We must know that the entire matter of the labor in keeping Torah and mitsvot by way of [freedom of] choice is mainly practiced according to the two aforementioned facets of hidden providence. And of that time: “Son of Heh-Heh said: According to the effort is the reward” (M Avot 5:26).
Since His providence is not revealed, it is impossible to see Him but only in hiding of the Face, from behind, as one who sees his friend from behind and may doubt and think he is another. In this way, the choice is always in the hands of man, either to fulfill the blessed Holy One’s will, or, perish the thought, to transgress it. This is because the troubles and the grief he suffers make him doubt the reality of His providence over His creatures, whether in the first facet—unintentional transgression; or in the second facet—intentional wickedness.
In any case, one is still in great pain and labor. Of this time it is written: All that your hand manages to do with your strength, do (Ecclesiastes 9:10). This is so because he will not be granted revealing the Face, the full degree of His goodness, before he exerts himself and does whatever is in his power to do, and “According to the effort is the reward.”
Indeed, after the blessed Holy One sees that man has completed his degree of attainment and completed all that he had to do with the power of his choice and his strengthening in trust of the blessed Holy One, he is assisted by Him and receives the attainment of revealed providence. Then, he is rewarded with perfect repentance, meaning he cleaves to the blessed Holy One once more with his heart, soul, and might [see recitation of Shema], as though drawn by itself in regard to the attainment of the revealed providence.
The above attainment and repentance come to a man by two rungs: The first is the attainment of providence according to absolute reward and punishment. Besides attaining the reward of each mitsvah in the world that is coming in utter clarity, he is also rewarded with the immediate attainment of wondrous pleasure in performing the mitsvah in this world.
Moreover, besides attaining the bitter punishment that extends from every transgression after his death, so too he is rewarded with sensing the bitter taste of every transgression while still alive.
Naturally, one who is imparted this revealed providence is certain that he will not offend again, just as one is quite sure he will not cut his own flesh and cause himself terrible suffering. In addition, one is certain that he will not neglect a mitsvah without performing it the instant it comes to his hand, as much as one is certain that he will not neglect any pleasure in this world or a great profit that comes to his hand.
Now you can understand the words of our sages: What is repentance like? When the One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again [see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuva, 2]. These are seemingly perplexing words, for who would rise to the heavens to hear the testimony of the blessed Holy One? Also, before whom should the blessed Holy One testify? Is it not enough that the blessed Holy One Himself knows that the person repented and will not offend again?
From the explanation, the matter becomes quite clear. In truth, one is not absolutely certain that he will not offend again before he is rewarded with the aforementioned attainment of reward and punishment, meaning revealing the Face. And this revealing of the Face, from the perspective of the blessed Holy One’s rescue, is called עֵדוּת (edut), “testimony,” since His rescue in itself, the attainment of reward and punishment, assures him that he will no longer offend.
It is therefore considered that the blessed Holy One testifies for him. It is written, “What is repentance like?” In other words, when will one be certain that he has been granted perfect repentance? For this, one is given a clear sign: “When the One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again.” This means that he will attain revealing the Face, at which time his own rescue testifies that he will not return to folly.
This aforementioned repentance is called “repentance from fear.” This is because although he returns to the blessed Holy One with his heart and soul, until He who knows all mysteries testifies that he will not turn back to folly, that certainty that he will not offend again is due to his attainment and sensation of the terrible punishment and agony as a result of the transgressions. Because of that, he is certain that he will not offend, just as he is quite sure that he will not afflict himself with horrible suffering.
However, in the end, these repentances and certainty are only because of the fear of punishment that extends from the transgressions. It turns out that one’s repentance is only for fear of punishment. Because of that, it is called “repentance from fear.”
With this we understand the words of our sages: One who repents from fear is rewarded with his intentional wickedness being unintentional [see BT Yoma 86b]. We must understand how this happens. According to what was said above, you can thoroughly understand that the offences one commits reach him from the reception of providence through a double hiding, namely “hiding within the hiding.” This means that one does not trust in providence of reward and punishment.
A single hiding means that he trusts in the providence of reward and punishment. Yet, due to the increase in suffering, he sometimes comes to thoughts of transgression. This is because even though he believes that the suffering came to him as a punishment, he is still like one who sees his friend from behind, and might doubt and mistake him for another. And these offences are only unintentional, since, as a whole, he trusts in providence of reward and punishment.
Hence, when one is granted repentance from fear, meaning a clear attainment of reward and punishment until he is certain that he will not offend again, the “hiding within the hiding” is entirely corrected in him. This is because now he sees evidently there is providence of reward and punishment. It is clear to him that all the suffering he had ever felt was a punishment from His providence for the offences he committed. In retrospect, he made a grave error. Hence, he uproots the intentional wickedness.
However, this is not entirely so, since they [still] become unintentional. In other words, it is like the transgressions he committed under one hiding, when he failed because of the confusion that came to him due to the multitude of torments that drive a person out of his mind. These are only regarded as unintentional.
Yet, according to this repentance, he did not at all correct the first hiding of the Face, which he had had before, but only from now on after he has attained revealing of the Face. In the past, however, before he had attained repentance, the hiding of the Face and all the unintentional offences remained as they were, without any change or repair whatsoever. This is so because then, too, he believed that the troubles and the suffering came to him as punishment, as is written, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’
Therefore, he is still considered “not perfectly righteous” (BT Qiddushin 40b) because one who is awarded with revealing the Face, namely the full degree of His goodness, as befits His Name, is called “righteous.” This is so because he justifies His providence as it truly is, that He is utterly good and perfect with His creatures, that He is good to the good and to the bad.
Hence, since he has been awarded with revealing the Face, from here on he merits the name “righteous.” However, since he has not completed the correction, but only “hiding with the hiding,” and has not corrected the first hiding, but only from here on, that time, before he was awarded repentance, still does not merit the name “righteous.” This is because then he is left with the hidding Face, as before. For this reason, he is called “not completely righteous,” meaning one who still needs to correct his past.
He is also called “intermediate” (BT Qiddushin 40b), since after he attains repentance from fear he becomes qualified, through his completion in Torah and mitsvot, to attain repentance from love, as well. Then one attains being “completely righteous.” Hence, now one is the medium between Fear and Love, and is therefore called “intermediate.” However, prior to that, he was not completely qualified to even prepare himself for repentance from love.
This thoroughly explains the first rung of attainment of revealing the Face, the attainment and sensation of providence of reward and punishment in a way that “The One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again.” This is called “repentance from fear,” when his intentional wickedness becomes unintentional. This is also called “not perfectly righteous” and “intermediate.”
Now we shall explain the second rung of attaining revealing of the Face, which is the attainment of the complete, true, and eternal providence. It means that the blessed Holy One watches over His creations according to “The Good that does good to the good and to the bad.” Now one is regarded as “perfectly righteous” and “repentance from love,” when one is granted turning his intentional wickedness to merits [see BT Yoma 86b].
This explains all four facets of providence that pertain to the creatures. The first three facets, double hiding, single hiding, and attainment of providence of reward and punishment are but preparations by which one attains the fourth facet, which is the attainment of true, eternal providence.
But we have yet to understand why the third facet is not enough for a person, namely attainment of the providence of reward and punishment. We said that he has already been rewarded with “He who knows all hidden things” testifying that he will not offend again. Hence, why is he still called “intermediate” or “not perfectly righteous,” indicating that his service is still not desirable in the eyes of the blessed Holy One, and there is still a flaw and blemish in his Torah and service?
First, let us scrutinize what the commentators asked about the mitsvah of loving the blessed Holy One. How did the holy Torah oblige us to a mitsvah that we cannot keep at all? One can coerce and enslave oneself to anything, but no coercion or enslavement in the world will help with love.
They explained that by keeping all 612 mitsvot properly, love of the blessed Holy One emanates to him on its own. Hence, it is considered possible to observe, since one can enslave and coerce himself to keep the 612 mitsvot appropriately, and then he will also attain love of the blessed Holy One.