900.12d Integration of Divine Hester; Self-limitation; Contraction (pps.129-131)
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will abandon them and hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured and many evils and distress shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, “Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not in our midst?” Hester Panim involves a temporary abandonment of the world, a suspension of His active surveillance, as Rashi clearly explains, “as though I do not see their distress.”
The Holocaust, in Rav Soloveitchik’s view, is a case of Hester Panim.516
In the context of post-World War I1 Jewish philosophical thought, the Hester Panim of Rav Soloveitchik is not radical. However, in the context of the flow of Jewish rabbinic theological doctrine, the attribution of Hester Panim to any discrete event is a major statement, if not challenge, and a courageous attempt to grapple with the theological conundrum posed by the Holocaust. Indeed, most Jewish philosophers seem unwilling to grapple with the whole subject, and when doing so, tread very carefully. The introduction of the concept of Hester to the Holocaust, however, opens a Pandora’s box of theological questions, as was probably not unforeseen by Soloveitchik.
By employing Hester Panim, one is indeed opening the entire matter of Providence to examination, elaboration, and extension. For the concept is too highly charged when not carefully and satisfactorily delimited. Our own Unified Formulation, which is quite broader in its delimiting of Providence, will indeed cite the attribution of Soloveitchik and others of Hester Panim to the Holocaust in support of our formulation.
Ascribing the Holocaust to periodic Hester Panim, as Soloveitchik seems to do, or, along similar lines, to an “eclipse of God” a la Fackenheim or Buber, opens a further gamut of extremely problematic questions: What was the demarcation line, before and after, and why? If the Hester was punishment, for what sin(s)? Were six million people, including a million children, so guilty? Was a warning given, and, if not, why not? Even if the forebears were the sinners, was the denouement commensurate? Under what possible moral schema should innocents born
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515 Besdin, Reflections of the Rav, p. 35.
516 See ibid., p. 37. “The Holocaust, in contrast, was Hester Panirn, We cannot explain the Holocaust but we can. at least, classify it theologically, characterize it, even if we have no answer to the question, ‘why?’ The unbounded horrors represented the tohu vavohu anarchy of the pre-yetzirah state. This is how the world appears when God’s moderating surveillance is suspended.”
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