inspired by R. YY Safrin—Komarna Rebbe
כתם אופיר—ביאור משולב
Every moment is a communication between HaShem and our soul. Yet, in the fuzzy interface of transmitter and receiver, an enmeshment occurs which makes it sometimes difficult to discern who’s mashpia and who’s mekabel anymore.
“The king is entangled in the tresses…” [SHS 7:6]
המלך אסור ברהיטים…
“King” indicates the lowest aspect of Divine transcendence—the end of a progressive sequence of constriction and concealment, stage by stage, sefira by sefira until the light is reduced enough that it can engage with our physical world without melting it down. We refer to the king mode of Divine expression as Blessed Holy One.
In contrast, Shekhina is the indwelling Presence of Divinity that actually fills all creatures and infuses all worlds. The King is transcendent, the Shekhina is immanent.
רהיטים—Rehitim—are tresses, meaning locks of hair. Now hair has an ambivalent status in Kabbala. Hair from the head (as opposed to the beard) represents the (metaphoric) sweat of the “brains” and consequently implies excess and impurity. By extension, hair is envisioned as the brain’s surrounding aura, that is also its conceptual box.
To describe the king as “entangled in the tresses” is to assert that there is a level of G-d that is entangled by our conceptions and projections of Him/Her/It. Meaning that HaShem accommodates our distorted notions of Divinity and even reinforces them (to some degree) in order to stay within our conceptual field so as to maintain relationship with us no matter how twisted our notion of Him may be.
The Komarna Rebbe touches upon these ideas in his commentary on the verse from Torah:
וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא…:
And I will surely hide my face on that day…[Deut 31:18]
The Torah employs the metaphor of HaShem hiding His/Her/Its face (called hester panim) to explain the sufferings that we—both individually and collectively—endure. The assumption is that HaShem’s shining countenance radiates lovingkindness. Conversely G-d’s hidden face brings darkness, confusion, vulnerability and allows evildoers to prosper. There is a whole continuum of possibilities between these two extremes.
So, apart from these poles, in the fuzzy interface where the providential will of the Holy One meets the (inevitably constricted) worldview/Godview of each one of us it can be difficult to sort out how much of our life-experience reflects the objective, immutable facts of a situation and how much hinges upon our interpretation of it. The Komarna Rebbe seems to suggest that our reading of a situation does actually impact the external facts of the matter.
כשידע אדם באמונה גדולה שאלופו של עולם בכל תנועה מיד יתפרדו כל פועלי און … מיד נמתקו הדינין ונתגלה האור… ולפעמים נסתר גם ההסתרה … שלא ידע שהקב”ה בהסתרה ואז יחול עונש כי כל זמן שאדם באמונה גדולה שבכל תנוע’ אלופו של עול’ ובוטח בה’ א”א לחול שום עונש אם לא בהסתלקות האמונה ברגע אז יחול העונש.
When a person with great faith, knows that the Master of the Universe is present in every happening then immediately the agents of iniquity fall away…the severities are sweetened and the light is revealed…
Yet sometimes the fact of G-d’s hidden presence is also hidden…meaning that the person doesn’t know anymore that HaShem is concealed [within this moment of hardship], at which point punishment applies. As long as a person holds onto their great faith that the Master of the Universe is present in every moment, and trusts in HaShem, then it is not possible for punishment to gain access. Yet in the instant that a person loses faith, in that moment punishment enters.
Exploring this teaching and elaborating upon it, a hierarchy of suffering emerges that reflects the extent of God’s “hidden face”—from darkly concealed to graciously radiant. Where we stand on that spectrum at any given moment depends upon (1) the objective circumstance itself, (2) our x-ray vision (meaning our capacity to see through surface appearances into the hidden depths of a situation), (3) our commitment to faith principles that we can’t actually glimpse, but that we know, with certainty, through faith, to be so and (4) HaShem’s intention for bringing this challenge which might require G-d’s blinding us to things that we would otherwise know, thereby increasing the hiddenness factor and by extension, the suffering entailed.
The Komarna Rebbe’s commentary on the verse: וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר (“And I will surely hide …”) implies that there are three degrees of concealment:
3 degrees of Divine hiddenness—( ואנכי הסתר אסתיר)—purposeless suffering—the harshest of hardships:
This person experiences the ordeal as a random spate of bad luck. They are an innocent victim. The hardship is meaningless and G-d doesn’t exist. A God that allows such cruelty and injustice…who needs Him/Her/It anyway. In addition to the painful circumstance, the existential experience of purposelessness adds salt to the wound.
- There is no G-d or, no belief in G-d
- G-d is not present in this ordeal
- There is no purpose to this suffering
- There is no trace of goodness (let alone, Divine goodness) here.
2 degrees of Divine hiddenness—(ואנכי הסתר אסתיר)—purposeful punishment:
There is purpose to these hardships. I deserve them because I am bad. HaShem’s love (which is equivalent to His Presence) is non-existent. The tikun is a backward facing (reflective) teshuva—what did I do wrong to deserve this?
- Belief in G-d, as a punishing G-d
- G-d has removed himself leaving me at the mercy of severe judgement. No evidence of love.
- Yes there is purpose…I deserve this punishment and its purgations.
- There is no experience of Divine goodness here.
1 degree of Divine hiddenness—(ואנכי הסתר אסתיר)—purposeful sufferings of love:
The content of this ordeal is custom tailored to my soul’s needs. HaShem is suffering with my suffering, and is only bringing this hardship upon me because he loves me and knows that it is the most gentle way that could possibly be designed to bring about my next step in personal and spiritual development. The tikun is forward facing, in the sense of what is this ordeal demanding of me. What is HaShem communicating through it. What is the growth I must accomplish to survive this ordeal and recover my peace. Growth is a labor-intensive process that rarely occurs at the pace necessary without very compelling incentives, such as suffering. Yet, even with this knowing and acceptance, it is still not a situation where one can say, “hatov v’hamaytiv,” It is still not a situation of revealed good.
- Belief in G-d
- There is the certainty of faith in Hashem’s presence throughout the ordeal, and wherever HaShem’s presence is felt, so is His love.
- There is purpose in this ordeal for it is forcing me to grow and evolve in specific ways that my soul needs.
- HaShem’s love sweetens the suffering. I know that this ordeal is good and will produce more good than pain, but it is still not revealed good nor revealed presence (at least for now).
0 degrees of Divine hiddenness—(ואנכי הסתר אסתיר)—Tsar HaShekhina—Purposeful sufferings of identification and partnership with the Shekhina
The center of experience, purposefulness and identification switches from self to Shekhina (Kenesset Yisrael), or rather, oneself as symptom-bearer and cell in the Shekhina’s cosmic ordeal. The fact that suffering exists in the world, means that both HaShem and the Shekhina share that pain (“I am with you in your suffering—עמו אנכי בצרה).
- Belief in G-d
- Presence is fully felt.
- Purpose is cosmic and centers in the Shekhina as opposed to our personal discomfort.
- Goodness is revealed. Yet, even “knowing” that the good will be infinitely worth the pain endured (as HaShem presumably knows) does not relieve Him/Her/It of the pains in the present. Consequently, even still, no tov v’hametiv.
It is known that, except for the rarest of occasions HaShem only fosters hidden miracles these days, phenomena that could be attributed to a variety of causes. Now, in the fuzzy gap between faith and sensibility, the Komarna suggests that HaShem actually adjusts reality to our lead, which is a kind of hidden miracle. On one hand our interpretation of a circumstance certainly does affect our experience of it. If we interpret it as an act of chastening punishment it will feel different than if we read it as an expression of love that “hurts G-d more than it hurts us.” That is true even when the externals are exactly the same. Yet that fact adds a certain ambiguity to the matter which makes it primed for providential interference. Whose to say, in the matter of suffering, which caused what. Did a person’s faith in God’s love, presence, and goodness actually alter the objective circumstances and lighten them. Or is it just that they are interpreting the ordeal differently and making excuses for HaShem, but really their faith made no difference to the reality of things. There’s really no way to objectively sort that out.
And so from the perspective of faith, “HaShem is entangled in the tresses…though for better, not for worse.” In the murky intervals between the various degrees of hester panim it is possible that HaShem (at least to some degree) adapts reality to the measure of our faith in the certainty of Divine presence, love and goodness. The Baal Shem Tov would remind his chassidim: “HaShem is your shadow—ה’ צלך. The expanse created by faith’s unconditional trust in the goodness of G-d evokes a willingness on G-d’s part to verify that belief and support it.
Malchut sh’b’malchut is the final, full embodiment of faith, the culmination the omer’s 49 tikunim.