We are promised that if we follow G-d’s decrees and observe all His commandments G-d will grant us prosperity, peace, children, and the Temple. Yet, in contrast to these very specific and practical blessings, there is one aspect of the multiple promises that seems undefined.
ופניתי אליכם (ויקרא כו ט) — I will turn My attention to you.
Rashi sees the word ופניתי rooted in the word פנאי, availability, 'I will turn away from all My other involvements’.
Is it possible to describe G-d as having a need to momentarily forsake his other preoccupations to be solely attentive to His people?
Others — among them the great 13th century Italian Kabbalist, Rav Menachem Recanati — interpret the word more literally, as פנים — face, referring to G-d promising to ‘face’ us with His פנים המאירים — radiant face.
But what is the implication of this ‘radiant face’ in practical terms? Is it merely in contrast with the state of הסתר פנים — hidden face, when G-d conceals His involvement in our lives, clothing His presence behind a ‘veil’ of natural events, indicating that we will be privileged to see with clarity His attentiveness and direct guidance in every facet of life?
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, the legendary Mashgiach, presents in his seminal work Alei Shur a fascinating explication of this notion of הארת פנים — radiant face.
The very first time G-d revealed his ‘radiant face’ to us as a nation was after the king of Egypt died and the Jews groaned from the work, crying out and G-d heard their moaning remembering His covenant with the Patriarchs.
‘God saw the children of Israel; and G-d knew’.
Rashi adds, ‘He set His heart upon them: and did not conceal His eyes from them.
The Ramban says this is G-d turning His attention to them by coming out of concealment and ‘enlightening them with His countenance’. G-d ‘knowing’ them indicates His focusing on them.
Similarly, G-d endowed man, being fashioned ‘In His image’, to emulate this power of radiance, that by concentrating on another individual, validating, caring, and conveying genuine concern, can uplift that person from the doldrums and empower towards greatness.
We are each born with an innate need to ‘be smiled upon’. Therefore, Rabbi Masya Ben Charash instructs us ‘to initiate a greeting to every person’. (אבות ד כ)
An infant can distinguish between an angry face and a positively radiant one. If we gaze at the child with love, he responds with playful joy. Look at him with anger — he begins to cry. A child who grows up without an illuminated countenance is akin to a plant that grows without the sun.
The reverse is also true. The child learns early on with his very first smile — the radiance of his soul breaking out from the depths of his body — creates an atmosphere of vibrant charm and joyous life.
All humanity longs for that illumination; the student for the light of his teacher, as well as the teacher for the students enlightened interest; children for the compassion of their parent, just as the parent hungers for the child’s bright rays of appreciation.
The buyer awaits the sellers understanding of his need and ability, just as the seller seeks the purchaser’s appreciation for his merchandise.
These two forces, the thirst for positive recognition and the desire to flex our strength of giving, is implanted deeply within our souls.
The gap between man will widen if we withhold our radiance from one another. We can elevate the world by unleashing this awesome power of validation, infusing the world with much needed light. (עלי שור ח"א ד' קפט)
There is not much known about the author of this Mishna, Rabbi Masya Ben Charash.
Yet there is one fascinating tale regarding the magnificent countenance he possessed that was compared to the face of an angel. This was due to his ‘never having set his eyes on a woman’.
The Midrash goes on to describe how the Satan appealed to G-d to permit him to seduce Rabbi Masya. G-d conceded telling him he would fail. The Satan appeared to Rabbi Masya in the form of a beautiful woman tempting to goad Rabbi Masya to gaze at her beauty. Each time he tried Rabbi Masya turned the other way. Fearing he might succumb he instructed his student to bring nails with some fire. He proceeded to heat up the nail and poked his own eyes out. Defeated, the Satan admitted to G-d he failed. G-d dispatched the angel Refoel to cure Rabbi Masya. At first Rabbi Masya refused out of fear he might one day weaken in his resolve. G-d promised he would never fail, and his sight returned.
Perhaps within this episode lays the seed to his greatness.
There are people who radiate warmth outwardly but only as a tool for self-gratification. Although they captivate people with their smiles and ‘sincere’ interest, their agenda is really to ‘win’ friends and ‘influence’ people, for their own personal gain.
Rabbi Masya never utilized his radiance for anything other than to emulate this attribute of G-d to illuminate others towards personal growth and inspiration.
It is only when it is purely motivated that it reflects this remarkable attribute of G-d.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן