Scott Kahn
Director of

The God Who Hides

(Photo: Pixabay)

God Who hides Himself in the beauty of secrecy

His mind that is hidden from any thought

Cause of all causes, crowned with the supernal crown

A crown they give to You, O Lord.

(Abraham Maimin, 16th Century)

It was a long and terrible day.

Twenty four hours earlier, the rumors started appearing online: it had been a tragic day for Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza. One of the worst days so far, they said – but nothing is official, so you have to live with the rumors absent any names or numbers or details or confirmation. It’s bad. Get ready. We’re not allowed to say more than that.

A couple of hours later, before we heard the official announcement in the media, the rabbi of our synagogue sent an email with the dreaded message that the son of members of our congregation… someone who had been fighting in Gaza that day… was gone. He was killed while defending Israel from the terrorists of Hamas.

His father sits directly behind me every week on Shabbat morning. Two days earlier, as I put my siddur and tallit away, we shook hands, smiled, and said, “Shabbat shalom.”

That was two days ago. Now, he was a grieving father of a fallen soldier.

Early the next morning, we heard the announcement that three other soldiers had been killed as well. Soon the total had climbed to nine. Then, ten.

My sister-in-law sent a WhatsApp message: one of the fallen soldiers was a nephew of her close friend.

My wife received another text: a different fallen soldier was the son of a girl in her high school class.

Israel is a very small country. There are few degrees of separation. Nothing takes place only to someone else. The pain is felt by everyone because everyone here is family.

The bus to the funeral at Israel’s military cemetery on Har Herzl was full. Everyone was quiet. We were echoing the divine silence. We were quiet like the God Who hides.

The night after Alex died, a kind woman came into the house carrying about 18 quiches, saying sadly, “I just don’t understand the will of God.”

I exploded. “I’ll say you don’t, lady. Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper, that he was probably driving too fast in such a storm, that he probably had had a couple of beers too many? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no streetlights on that road and no guardrail separating that right-angle turn from Boston Harbor?”

…When the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

(Willian Sloane Coffin, as quoted by James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, p. 57)

Our God is a God Who hides.

It was an unusual podcast. The guest had seen terrible things, and was trained to speak to the survivors. There was no such thing as taking a break; she was always listening and comforting and helping. She was a character, and she made the hosts laugh at the same time as she widened their eyes with her heartbreaking testimony. It was an unusual podcast.

As I listened in during the recording – I was the producer, not the host – I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Frankly, my overriding thought was that this was going to be a tough edit. It was simultaneously sad and entertaining and strange. I took a deep breath; this one was going to be a big job. Better schedule more time than I normally do for a podcast of this length.

Later on, one of the hosts sent me a message. He agreed that this episode was peculiar. But he also told me a secret.

“I was feeling that… there was the presence of God there.”

The presence of God in a random, kind of odd podcast. That’s what the host said. That’s what he meant. “Funny thing to say,” he concluded.

No, it’s not. It makes perfect sense. God is quiet, and then appears suddenly when we are in the midst of conversation.

As they were walking – walking and talking – behold a chariot of fire and horses of fire made a separation between them, and Eliyahu went up in the tempest to heaven. (Melachim Bet 2:11) 

When hearts meet in truth, God sometimes peeks out of His hiding place. The God Who hides is a God Who may suddenly appear when we are walking and talking.

Sometimes God appears in a chariot of fire. There can be no doubt that God is there.

Sometimes God appears in the sound of thin silence – and, again, there can be no doubt that God is there. Sometimes He reveals Himself in the words that we say, and sometimes He is revealed in the spaces between the words – the brilliant and hidden white fire on which the flaming black letters are composed.

It was September 10th, 1994, and a student named Zelig gave the dvar Torah during Shabbat lunch. All eyes in the yeshiva dining room were focused on him as he explained the disturbing words that appeared in that week’s Torah portion: “On that day, I will surely hide (haster astir) My face.” What does it mean, Zelig asked, when the Torah uses that double term, haster astir, to indicate that God will be hiding? Zelig answered that God can sometimes act like a father who wears a mask, and when his child is scared and he removes the mask from his face – there’s yet another mask underneath it. This is the terror of divine hiddenness.

We may not find Him. But there is consolation in knowing that He is a God Who hides. We cannot find Him because, perhaps, He does not want to be found. But He is there. The One Who hides is, almost by definition, present under His disguise.

Sometimes God is hidden because He chooses not to be found. Sometimes He is hidden only because we fail to recognize that He is hiding.

The same God Who may suddenly carry the Prophet Eliyahu in a tempest to the heavens, also told that same prophet that His natural place is in silence. The exact spot where He hides is, consequently, the place He may be found, should we begin to look.

[God] said, go out and stand on the mountain before Hashem, and behold! Hashem passed, and a great and powerful wind that breaks apart mountains and smashes rocks was before Hashem – yet Hashem was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake; Hashem was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire; Hashem was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of thin silence. As Eliyahu heard, he covered his face with his mantle… (Melachim Alef 19:11-13)

There are times when we listen for the hiding God in the silence and all we find is… more silence. We remove the mask and find yet another mask underneath. One who seeks God must then continue to look. For if God is hiding, that means He is there. We don’t know how many masks are hiding His face. When we look and fail, we need to take heart and try yet again. Hopes are dashed… and then it’s time to start again.

Do not hide Your face from me!… Hope in Hashem, strengthen and encourage your heart, and hope in Hashem. (Tehillim 27:9,14)

Our God is a God Who hides… and those from Whom He is hiding, paradoxically, give Him His crown.

God Who hides Himself in the beauty of secrecy

His mind that is hidden from any thought

Cause of all causes, crowned with the supernal crown

A crown they give to You, O Lord.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at