Hasidim relate the following anecdote:
The grandson of Rebbe Baruch of Medziboz, Yechiel Michal, was playing hide-and-seek with another boy. He hid himself well and waited for his friend to search for him. After waiting for a long time, he came out of his hiding place, but his friend was nowhere to be seen. It suddenly dawned upon the young Yechiel that his partner had not sought him out at all. The distraught child broke into tears and ran to the study of his grandfather. As the boy complained about his unkind friend, tears began to roll from the eyes of the Rebbe, and he said, "Ineed. That's exactly what the Almighty Himself says: 'I hide myself but nobody wants to look for Me.'"
Treating the above narrative calls firstly for addressing one of the foundations of Hasidic philosophy. The central pillar of Hasidic doctrine can be summed up in the terse adage, "There is no place absent of Him." God's presence pervades all existence. Hence, it is possible to uncover such a presence in everything - every situation, every matter, every word, and every though. The Baal Shem Tov would say that, initially, it was difficult for him to sit with people who spoke of mundane matters.
However, after grasping this great all-embracing principle – the idea that even man's mundane speech possesses the inward incandescence of God's presence – it was no longer difficult for him to listen to such conversations: while people would speak of vanities, the Baal Shem Tov heard profound ideas being expressed. This is the manner in which Rebbe Baruch perceives the words of his grandchild in our story. The boy's tearful grief over the fact that he had hidden but nobody searched for him rises above the concrete realm of a child's disappointment over a game. Instead, it is transformed into the sorrow of the Almighty over the fact that nobody searches Him out.
In keeping with this approach, let us probe more intensely that which appears to be trivial, cognizant of the fact that things which seem to be mundane can in fact serve as a gateway to a much deeper understanding. Our anecdote reveals a markedly more profound aspect of the hide-and-seek game. When approached on a simple level, this game implies that the one who is doing the hiding desires but one thing: not to be discovered.
A more penetrating look, however, teaches us that though the hider desires to remain undiscovered, he enjoys the fact that his opponent searches him out. That somebody cares where you are is a comforting fact. What we have here, then, is a kind of distancing, the foundation of which is a desire and longing to return and reunite. The child's weeping over the fact that his friend does not even bother to look for him conveys the severity of the offense. It appears as if the seeker is not concerned about him at all. Ostensibly, as far as the seeker is concerned, the hider can continue to hide forever; the seeker will not miss him in the least. The offense is great. The child cries.
Rebbe Barukh does not leave things as they are, on their ordinary level. He unearths profound implications in all that he observes. The biblical verse which underlies this approach is, "I shall verily hide My face from them" (Deuteronomy 31:17). What we have here is a kind of "concealment within concealment." The first layer of concealment is one in which the seeker still senses that the Almighty is hiding from him. This manner of concealment constitutes a kind of challenge for all who seek out God. Man senses that God is hiding from him and sets out in an attempt to "find Him."
This is God's way. Sometimes He keeps at bay precisely in order to cause man to seek and search for Him. The sages teach us that God caused the Matriarchs to be barren because He longs for the prayers of the righteous. God effects deficiency in order to prompt man to turn the world upside-down in search of an answer. He wants man to pray, supplicate, and invoke Him to reveal Himself. A state of Divine concealment, with all of the vicissitudes it involves, nevertheless possesses profound meaning as far as man's nearness to God is concerned, for God's absence evokes a longing to draw near to Him.
The verse's message is a dire one: "I will verily hide..." It relates to a concealment within a concealment. When there is concealment inside of concealment the seeker is not even aware that he must search. A severance is effected. The Almighty hides Himself from us. We interpret this to mean that we must stop searching.
Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that people who face this kind of absence arrive at the conclusion that there is no longer anybody to search for. The questions disappear, the arguments fade out, even the spiteful cries hurled at the Almighty become weak. God, Who only hid Himself from us in order that we seek Him out, retires to His inner chambers and weeps, "Why have I come? There is not a soul to be found; I have cried out and there is no answer." We must probe the depths of this great game of hide-and-seek. We must realize that behind God's concealment exists a grand call for an intense search – a search which will finally lead to an unveiling and unification.