As the time of Moshe’s death approaches, G-d says to him, “…the people will rise up and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the land… and they will forsake Me and annul My covenant…I will conceal My face from them…and many evils and distresses will encounter them.” Then G-d tells him that the people will repent and will say, “Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?” But, strangely enough, even after they have repented G-d says that they will not be forgiven — “But I will surely conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that they did, for they had turned to gods of others.”
All the commentators are puzzled by G-d’s refusal to accept the repentance of the nation. Abarbanel offers a unique insight into the behavior of the people that is certainly relevant today as well. He says that the people were guilty of two transgressions:
1. The idolatrous practice of serving other gods.
2. Drifting away from the covenant and their essential connection to G-d.
When the nation was punished as a result of these transgressions, they repented by reaffirming their connection to G-d and the covenant but did not give up their idolatrous practices. They felt that they could serve G-d in a manner of a ‘partnership’ with idolatrous practices. However, G-d makes it clear that this misconception is even more egregious than moving away from their covenant with G-d in the first place. Therefore, G-d says that he will surely conceal His face from them.
This misconception has been repeated throughout Jewish history. One cannot separate commitment, belief and attachment from specific behavior. One’s attachment to G-d and Torah cannot be in ‘partnership’ with practices that are antithetical to the Torah.