Illuminating the Face – Naso
וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר כֹּה תְבָרְכוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָמוֹר לָהֶם. יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. יִשָּׂא ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. (במדבר ו, כב-כו)
The Kli Yakar explains why the ציווי of Birkat Kohanim immediately follows the parsha of the Nazir. Just as a Nazir is forbidden to drink wine, so a Kohen is forbidden to do Birkat Kohanim after drinking wine.
The subject of Birkat Kohanim is multifaceted and encompasses many beautiful aspects. In this shiur I will bring a principle from sefer Meir Panim which explores the intricate connection between the Lechem Hapanim and Birkat Kohanim and to wrap it up, we will tie it all together with Shavuot and Matan Torah, which we celebrate b”H this coming Motzei Shabbat.
In the last two of the three psukkim of Birkat Kohanim the word “face” appears - יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ and יִשָּׂא ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ. There is a fundamental difference between יָאֵר and יִשָּׂא and I will explain each in turn.
Rashi on the passuk יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ says - יַרְאֶה לְךָ פָּנִים שׂוֹחֲקוֹת - that Hashem will show you a laughing/smiling/happy face.
This perush of Rashi is echoed in a perush of the Or HaChaim on parshat Va’eira (Shmot 6,2). The Or HaChaim compares the phraseology used in the first interaction between Moshe and HKB”H at the burning bush and the subsequent phraseology after Moshe “complained” to Hashem that, since he had confronted Pharaoh, things had become worse for Bnei Yisrael.
In the first encounter at the סנה, the phraseology used is consistently וַיֹּאמֶר and the name of Hashem used is י-ה-ו-ה. However, as soon as Moshe begins to “complain”, the phraseology drastically changes to וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹקים.
Vayomer indicates a softer tone and the name of Hashem י-ה-ו-ה reflects מידת הרחמים and a laughing/happy face - שהראה לו פנים צוחקות פנים שמחות הרשומים בשם הוי"ה, in the words of the Or HaChaim. Contrast this with Vayedaber which indicates a harsher tone and the name א-לוקים which reflects מידת הדין, or in the words of the Or HaChayim פנים של מורא שהם בחינת הדין הרשומים בשם א-לקים.
Hashem has different “faces” depending on which capacity He is appearing in. If Hashem is appearing in the capacity of מידת הרחמים, the face is a happy, smiling face. If Hashem is appearing in the capacity of מידת הדין, the face is a severe, fearsome face.
The OrHaChaim says that the name י-ה-ו-ה has “embedded in it” a smiling face, perhaps like this –
The Hebrew word for smile חיוך is not incidental or random, it reflects a deeper meaning. חיוך can be read as חי-וך, or חי כו'. The gematriya of Hashem’s name י-ה-ו-ה is 26, or כו. Therefore, when a person smiles - he/she is “living” the essence of the name of Hashem י-ה-ו-ה that reflects מידת הרחמים.
Getting back to Birkat Kohanim - when it says יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, the closest we can get to understanding this is that - “Hashem will smile at you”.
(Obviously HKB”H does not have a physical “face” and these descriptions of Rashi and the Or HaChayim are just allegorical, to help us physical beings, with limited understanding, conceptualize and understand - by providing the “corresponding” human facial expressions).
When HKB”H “smiles” at us, He shines His Divine light upon us, as it were. This spiritual light from Above “filters” through the cracks of the fingers of the Kohanim who are עומדים על הדוכן, as follows –
There are five “cracks” or spaces in the hand/finger orientation of the Kohanim that correspond with the five words in the passuk יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ.
This is what Shlomo Hamelech was referring to in Shir Hashirim (2, 9) – דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי לִצְבִי אוֹ לְעֹפֶר הָאַיָּלִים הִנֵּה זֶה עוֹמֵד אַחַר כָּתְלֵנוּ מַשְׁגִּיחַ מִן הַחֲלֹּנוֹת מֵצִיץ מִן הַחֲרַכִּים. The Midrash says that HKB”H kiveyachol is like a deer who skips from one Beit Knesset to another to bless Am Yisrael through the Kohanim.
For this reason, it is forbidden to look at the Kohanim while they are doing Birkat Kohanim, because it is tantamount to gazing directly at the Shechina.
I have not seen this written anywhere, it is certainly not a halacha, but I believe that it is a הנהגה טובה, that while the Kohanim are reciting this second passuk – we should smile. If HKB”H is “smiling” at us, the very least we can do is smile back.
This concept of the smile and how it relates to מידת הרחמים is a central theme of the Lechem Hapanim that is extensively explored in sefer Meir Panim. The configuration of the Lechem Hapanim with the Levonah on the Shulchan, reflects a smiling face –
Birkat Kohanim is a ברכה, a blessing. In the first verse - יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ the first word could be read “Hashem will bless you”. Alternatively it could also read “Hashem will make you a vessel” from the root of the word בריכה.
The letter “caf” כ is symbolic of a vessel. This is why so many words in Hebrew that are vessels begin with a כ, for example – כלי, כוס, כד, כף יד, כיור etc. The “bent” form of the כ is a vessel to receive something in. The straight form of the ך is the same vessel, but opened to release its contents. It is of no use if the vessel that has gathered the abundance does not release it afterwards. This is the secret of פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי רצון.
It will not come as a surprise therefore that the shape of the Lechem Hapanim is a letter כ.
To prepare yourself to receive a blessing, you must make yourself into a “vessel”, you must prepare both your body and your mind to be in the correct posture and mindset to receive the bracha.
The appropriate physical posture is a smile on your face, with your hands outstretched, palms facing upwards in a gesture of supplication (if you feel embarrassed standing that way in shul, simply hold your siddur in your two upraised palms. That serves the same purpose and nobody will notice – they should have their eyes closed or turned downwards anyway during Birkat Kohanim).
Studies have been conducted by research psychologists that prove when a person stands in this physical posture, their body is more relaxed and they are more receptive to stimuli. Therefore, your physical posture influences your mindset and the two are symbiotic (this is also covered in Meir Panim - FFH, Facial Feedback Hypothesis - how the deliberate act of smiling improves mood). Since the physical body and the Neshama are connected with each other, there is counterpoint and bi-directional communication between them. The mindset of the Neshama affects the physical body and vise-versa.
If a person attunes their body and their mind in this receptive framework, they will be in an appropriate state to receive a bracha.
What does it mean וִיחֻנֶּךָּ ? That Hashem should smile upon us and …. what exactly? The Mefarshim, like Rashi, interpret this as “give you חן”. It is difficult to translate חן into English. “Grace” does not sufficiently express the essence of the word חן. It is a kind of inner illumination that radiates outwards.
However, there is another meaning to וִיחֻנֶּךָּ if examined in the context of “inauguration” as in חנוכת המשכן. What does “inauguration” mean? It is like a fresh start – a reset. When Hashem smiles upon us and illuminates us with His Divine light, it is as if he is “resetting” us and giving is a fresh start. That is the purpose of a bracha – a turning point that signals the beginning of better things.
The Baal Haturim says that יאר corresponds with Yitzchak who in fact died on the Mizbeach during the akeida, but Hashem smiled upon him with His Divine light and resuscitated (reset) him. The name יצחק reflects the Divine פנים צוחקות.
That explains יאר ה' פניו. What about ישא ה' פניו in the next passuk?
We are asking Hashem to לשאת פנים…… when the Torah explicitly says that Hashem does not - אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשָּׂא פָנִים וְלֹא יִקַּח שֹׁחַד (Devarim 10, 17). Also Hashem tells us not to, לא תעשו עול במשפט לא תשא פני דל (Vayikra 19, 15). If you have a court case in which the one party is a poor man and the other a rich man, the Torah commands us not to favor the poor man because he is downtrodden and similarly not to favor the rich man because he is influential, but to judge the case on its merits and not the status of the parties involved. So how can we ask Hashem to be impartial and “favor” us?
There is a passuk in Yishayahu (45, 7). יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע אֲנִי ה' עֹשֶׂה כָל אֵלֶּה. It may sound familiar and in fact is the passuk on which the bracha in tfilat shacharit is based – עושה שלום ובורא את הכל.
The Metzudot David interprets this passuk as follows. HKB”H creates opposites. He creates light for Am Yisrael and darkness for the goyim. He creates peace for Am Yisrael and the opposite for the goyim.
It may appear that we are asking HKB”H to unfairly “favor” us and grant us peace, but in fact that is not the case. HKB”H is Dayan HaEmet – He judges the case on its merit alone and not on the status of the parties. When judged on merit, it is Am Yisrael who are consistently in HKB”H’s camp and the goyim who are consistently not. Yes, there are isolated incidents in history when this is not so, but in general this is the pattern. So when Hashem grants us peace, it is an unbiased, fair judgment.
The concept of peace is also integral to the Lechem Hapanim, where you have all Twelve Tribes represented on the Shulchan, all co-existing in peace. In fact all the concepts represented by Birkat Kohanim are inherent also in the Lechem Hapanim.
The Sforno offers another interpretation to the passuk יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ. That Hashem should open your eyes to the Divine light - להביט נפלאות מתורתו. According to the Sforno, this blessing is to enable us to uncover the wondrous secrets of the Torah.
Birkat Kohanim is actually closely connected to the Torah.
Every morning we say Birkat Hatorah and immediately following the bracha, the psukkim chosen from the Torah are none other than - Birkat Kohanim.
The structure of Birkat Kohanim is closely related to the Torah. The first passuk has 3 words, the second passuk 5 words and the third passuk 7 words. These correspond to the number of aliyot to the Torah - 3 on weekdays, 5 on Chag and 7 on Shabbat.
The Kohanim stretching out their hands to bless Am Yisrael with ten fingers, corresponds to the עשרת הדברות.
Birkat Kohanim consists of 60 letters, שִׁשִּׁים גִּבֹּרִים סָבִיב לָהּ (Shir Hashirim 3, 7) which correspond to the 60 masechtot of Shas that relate to halacha (in fact Shas has 63 masechtot, but if you consider the three Bavot – קמא, מציעא, בתרא as one and you exclude Avot which is not related to halacha – you have 60. This incidentally is where the title גאון comes from, someone who knows all 60 masechtot of Shas is a גאון – gematria 60).
Just as the essence of Birkat Kohanim is שלום, so too is the Torah – וכל נתיבותיה שלום.
These are a few of the many connections between Birkat Kohanim and the Torah.
We are approaching Shavuot which is חג מתן תורה and also a unique situation where every Jew in the world will hear Birkat Kohanim (both in Eretz Yisrael and in galut). Birkat Kohanim is the only remnant that we have from the Beit Hamikdash that is still performed today as it was then (everything else is ”in-memory-of”).
We fervently pray that HKB”H should illuminate us with His Divine light, enlighten our eyes to the treasures of the Torah and grant us the peace within Am Yisrael that we so desperately need and we should merit the Geulah and be able to hear Birkat Kohanim in its rightful place, the Beit Hamikdash, בבי"א.