Some Jewish concepts are familiar to us, but we have difficulty grasping what they really mean. Here is one example: “Shechinta b’galusa.” The term is usually translated as “the Divine presence in captivity” – but what does that mean?
Perhaps the following story will help shed light on the matter. Years ago, an acquaintance of mine made plans with his wife to invite a house full of guests for an upcoming Shabbos. After finalizing their plans, they invited many people and excitedly looked forward to the event.
A few days before the designated Shabbos, as things were falling into place, the husband was unexpectedly assigned reserve duty by the army, to start – you guessed it – that Friday. The couple was in a quandary. How should they proceed?
His request to push off army duty was refused, so, having no choice, the couple decided to leave things as scheduled rather than disappoint their friends by canceling last minute.
That Friday night, the husband stood guard on top of a tower overlooking the Judean mountains bordering enemy territory. It was a freezing winter night, and the wind blew fiercely, penetrating through the layers of his protective coat. To make matters worse, uncontrollable heavy rain started pouring and within minutes he was drenched through and through. He felt totally miserable.
His thoughts started wandering to “home sweet home.” A look at his wristwatch made him realize that his guests at that moment were probably seated around the table, partaking of its delicacies, relaxing and enjoying the meal while he – the master of the house – was standing guard far away, probably forgotten. These thoughts did nothing to improve his already bad mood.
He felt hopeless and terribly lonely, but at that moment, it dawned on him; a new comprehension of “Shechinta b’galusa” struck him. The analogy was too strong, it couldn’t be ignored. Is that Hashem’s experience, he wondered? Here we are, enjoying this world set as a lavish table to enjoy. Nothing is omitted, nothing is missing. The Creator provided everything to perfection, beyond imagination. And the Host? Is the Host invited to the party? Is the Host welcomed?
Or is He not even missed by many of the guests who are enjoying His magnificent world without including Him in the festivities?
This same explanation of “Shechinta b’galusa” is illustrated by the following anecdote. A group of little children were once playing hide and seek. One child hid so well, though, that his friends couldn’t find him. So, eventually giving up, they left him behind – whereupon he started crying.
A passing rabbi noticed the sobbing child and asked, “What makes you cry, my child?”
“No one is looking for me,” he whimpered.
The rabbi lifted his eyes heavenward and said: “Isn’t that a demonstration of ‘Shechinta b’galusa’ – the Shechina hiding, waiting for us to lift the curtain and disclose His presence and involvement in the world!”
When things work out differently than anticipated or plans fall through, it might be a golden opportunity to acknowledge Hashem’s presence in this world. If we are able, at that moment, to recognize His hand and lovingly accept the course of events He planned for us, we are a step closer to fulfilling our task in this world.
Let me finish by sharing the contents of a sign you probably would only see in Yerushalayim. It is on display at the door of a hardware store selling low chairs for Tisha B’Av:
“Please note that even if Moshiach comes between now and Tisha B’Av, there is no refund on the low chairs!”