Face to Face

priestlyblessing.jpg“May ADONAI bless and protect you. May ADONAI shine (God’s) face upon you show favor to you. May ADONAI turn (God’s) face to you and grant you peace.” –Parashat Naso (Numbers 6:23-26)

One of the most notable aspects of the three-part Birkat Cohenim (Priestly Benediction) is its use of the metaphor of “God’s face.” The final two blessings utilize this image in two different ways: in the second blessing, the “light” of God’s countenance bestows acceptance or grace (in Hebrew, chen); in the third and final blessing, the “turning” of God’s face expresses Shalom – peace, wholeness, fulfillment.

The metaphor of God’s face is used throughout the Bible, often to convey the powerful and immediate experience of the Divine Presence. For instance, Moses’ unique relationship with God is driven home when we read that “God singled him out face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). On the other hand, the concept of hester panim (the hiding of God’s face) is often invoked to convey divine anger and punishment. (See Deuteronomy 31:18). This metaphor is also used in a powerful and poignant way during the reconciliation of estranged twin brothers Jacob and Esau. Upon their reunion, Jacob says to his older brother:

Please, if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God… (Genesis 33:10)

This use of the metaphor suggests that Godliness is particularly manifest in the act of conflict resolution – when former enemies find the wherewithal to “turn their faces” to one another. In this regard, we might well view the Birkat Cohenim not merely as a blessing of well-being but as a spiritual imperative. How will God’s face shine upon or turn to greet us? When we turn our faces to one another in acceptance and peace.

Postscript: This imperative is particularly endangered in a world where extremism too often eclipses the faces of moderation on all sides. The OneVoice Movement in Israel/Palestine is one inspiring example of an effort to empower the forces of acceptance and peace on a widespread, grassroots level. By their own description:

OneVoice aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and ensure that the agenda is not hijacked by forces of militant absolutism.

Want to be inspired? Visit their website and/or view their video below:

1 thought on “Face to Face

  1. Rachael McFarland

    I guess it all comes down to the call to love. Love God with all your heart and mind and strength and love your neighbour above yourself. From obedience comes peace.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s