Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.
In a Jewish spirituality class I took recently, we were given a handout with several dozen different names or epithets for G-d, and asked to consider how each resonated with us. I’m not sure all of them were even traditionally Jewish, but rather just names different cultures have assigned to the Divine at one time or another.
While none of the names associated with peace felt right to me–spirituality is too violent, too tumultuous, too upsetting to consensus reality for peace to fit in this age–one name felt perfect. “Hidden One.” As far as I can tell, it’s actually a name traditionally associated with the ancient Egyptian deity, Amun.
Its origins aside, G-d often feels hidden to me. Creation is often gasping for the breath of life within it. Our understanding of G-d and purpose and metaphysics is often something like a radio just out of range. We have so much though, especially in the Jewish tradition, to draw on. We have Torah. We have the prophets and the Talmud. We have sages and kabbalists and rabbis and grandmothers. We have tradition–the footsteps of our ancestors to trace over again, each time another chance to uncover or to remember something forgotten, something lost.
But G-d can still be hidden in the interference. G-d can be hidden by doubt and modernism and postmodernism and the material weight of exhaustion, diaspora, and division.
Sometimes we have to seek G-d. Sometimes we have to wrestle with G-d over how we interpret different laws or stories, or over how we ought to treat estranged friends and family. Sometimes G-d is hidden in the lesson there (sometimes about compassion and forgiveness, other times about boundaries and discipline). Sometimes G-d appears in the dirty and gnarled face of a stranger who happens upon you. Sometimes G-d is everywhere but in the religious services we feel obligated to attend.
“Hidden One” describes the G-d I encounter, and find myself seeking and seeking again after each time. And “Hidden One” also describes the G-d we find in this week’s Torah portion.
“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘Surely [HaShem] is present here, and I did not know it!'” (Genesis 28:16)
So much of the commentary I’ve encountered on this portion deals with either Jacob’s dream or with the conflict between Jacob and Laban. What I receive though is a story about the supernatural presence all around us. Jacob’s dream reveals another layer to reality apart from the physically apparent. Jacob’s act of sympathetic magic (Genesis 30:37-40) reveals an entire metaphysics of animal husbandry known or intuited by the patriarch. And Laban’s household teraphim reveal a more complicated idea of divinity, spirits, and religion as known by the men of Abraham’s extended family. Perhaps their temporary “disappearance” is itself even a nod to G-d as the “Hidden One.”
Through all of these animistic experiences, G-d is functioning and ultimately identified as being above all creation by the story’s central figures. In the end, when they make a pact with one another, it’s G-d’s name they swear to each other upon. Differences, theological and personal, may remain, but a unity is found in a recognition of G-d, G-d’s power, and G-d’s placement in the hierarchy of creation.
That’s the other side I see to G-d as the Hidden One–whatever is hidden, it can eventually be found, potentially by anyone.