Pinny Arnon

God’s Face Revealed: The Secret of the Priestly Blessing

In Parshas Naso, God delivers to Aaron the “Bircas Kohanim,” the Priestly Blessing through which he and his descendants would bless the nation throughout the generations. A blessing in Torah is not merely an expression of benediction or good wishes. It is with words that God creates the universe, and through the words of the Priestly Blessing, He empowers the priests to create a channel through which divine energy is communicated into the world and bestowed onto those who are being blessed. This infuses the people with an additional flow of Godly strength and benevolence to assist them in accomplishing their spiritual and physical tasks.

The blessing reads as follows:

:יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ-הוָֹה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ: יָאֵר יְ-הוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ: יִשָּׂא יְ-הוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
Yivarechecha A-donai v’yishmerecha. Yaer A-donai panav eilecha vichunecha. Yisa A-donai panav eilecha v’yaseim lecha shalom.
May God bless you and watch over you. May God cause His face to shine to you and favor you. May God raise His face toward you and grant you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

On the simple level, the blessing requests God’s favor, protection, and peace. But if we analyze the verses more closely, we will discover the profound wisdom and benefit that Hashem is communicating through His priests.

:יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ-הוָֹה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
Yivarechecha A-donai v’yishmerecha.
May God bless you and watch over you.

The first word of this first verse, “יְבָֽרֶכְךָ/Yivarechecha,” means “may He bless you.” The root of this word, “ב-ר-ך/barech” means “to bless,” but it also means “to draw down,” as in the phrase “הַמַבְרִיך אֶת הַגֶפֶן/hamavrich es hagefen/to draw down a vine” as well as the word “בְּרֵיכׇה/breicha”, which means a “pool” or a place where water has descended and gathered. Reading the words “yivarechecha A-donai” with this connotation, they can be rendered “may God be drawn down to you,” blessing one with the ability to have God revealed to her/him below just as He is above.

The Chassidic masters teach that our ultimate goal is that the Godliness which is at the root of all things should not only be acknowledged intellectually or spiritually, but that it should be clear and visible within this realm of physicality and darkness. The final word of the verse, “וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ/v’yishmerecha” is from the root “ש-מ-ר/shamor,” which means “to guard.” Once the Godliness is brought down and revealed within you, it should be guarded and kept in you. Otherwise, it may once again become lost, forgotten, or stolen by the forces of darkness that constantly work to deprive us of our vision in this world of concealment.

The second verse of the blessing refers to God’s face:

:יָאֵר יְ-הוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
Yaer A-donai panav eilecha vichunecha.
May God cause His face to shine to you and favor you.

On the simple level, this phrase wishes one God’s kindness and grace, which are represented by the imagery of His radiant countenance as opposed to a dark countenance, which would symbolize anger or displeasure. Yet on a deeper level, this appeal for the “shining” of God’s “face” is an allusion to the “Pnei Hashem/face of God” that is buried within the “pnimiyus/innermost core“ of each and every one of us. It is a request that the face should “yaer/shine” brightly so that one can see it and be aware of it. The blessing is not merely that God should be kind to you, but that He should lavish you with the greatest of all kindness, which is that He should be apparent to you and revealed within you.

The final word of the verse, “vichunecha” is from the root “ח-ן/chein,” which means “favor” or “grace.” The ultimate divine favor or grace that we request of God is this shining revelation of His face. But the Alter Rebbe points out (in Likkutei Torah, maamar “Koh Tuvarchu Bnei Yisrael”) that the word “vichunecha” also shares a root with the word “חָנָה/chanah,” which means “to encamp.” As in the first verse, where God is not only momentarily revealed, but thereafter guarded so that His presence remains, so too here in this second verse we pray that the face not only shines brightly within us briefly or temporarily, but that it “encamps” within us permanently so that we are constantly aware of our true essence and reality.

God’s face is specifically mentioned in the third verse of the blessing as well:

:יִשָּׂא יְ-הוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
Yisa A-donai panav eilecha v’yaseim lecha shalom.
May God raise His face toward you and grant you peace.

In this final verse of the blessing, God “raises” His face toward us, as opposed to “shining” His face to us as in the previous verse. What is the difference between these two bestowals of His face? The Alter Rebbe (in Likkutei Torah, maamar “Bayom Hashemini Atzeres”) explains that the raising of God’s face represents the removal of His visible presence from this lowest world. As such, it is the opposite of the “bringing it down” that was referenced in the first verse of the blessing. How, then, is this removal and elevation of God’s face a blessing?

Here, the Alter Rebbe expounds, we find the secret of exile and darkness. God hides from us precisely in order that we should seek Him, and it is this very search that will enable us to rise ever higher. For by seeking His face, we come to find our own “face,” and we realize that we are far higher and loftier than we had believed ourselves to be. Indeed, the verse says “may God raise His face toward you,” not away from you or above you. If He is raising His face, we would assume that it is becoming more distant, as we are ostensibly grounded and stuck here below. But in fact, as God raises His face, it approaches us, because the most hidden and precious truth is that we are not below at all. We are rooted in the highest of all heights.

This three-part blessing, then, is a three-stage progression. First, “yivarechecha A-donai,” we should be able to bring God down so that He is manifest within us. Then “yaer panav,” His face should shine so that it radiates from within us to illuminate the darkness for us and for all of those around us. And finally, “yisa A-donai panav,” the face should be lifted to reveal to us our ultimate source and root which is far beyond this coarse and limited realm. And this progression will bring us the ultimate reward of “shalom/peace,” as the blessing concludes “וְיׇשֵׂם לְךׇ שׇׁלוֹם/v’yaseim lecha shalom/and He will grant you peace.” “Shalom/peace” is the ability to see the light within the darkness, and to know that there is nothing to fear because there is only, and always, One. May each of us be blessed with this peace, and may we be a source of this peace and blessing for all of those that we encounter.

— Excerpted from PNEI HASHEM, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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