יברכך ה' וישמרך. יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך. ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום.
“Hashem will bless you and protect you. Hashem will light up His Face to you and grace you. Hashem will lift up His Face to you and give you peace.” (Bamidbar 6)
The Midrash comments on this verse: “and protect you – from the yetzer hara.”
This blessing is repeated daily in our prayers, and used during birchas Kohanim. What is the meaning of the two references to Hashem’s “Face”? Hashem does not have a physical appearance.
We can understand this through the concept of panim chadoshes. According to the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 62), during the week of sheva berachos following a wedding, a panim chadoshes – a “new face” – must be present in order for the wedding party to say the seven marriage blessings. Every day, a person who did not join any of the previous sheva berachos must be invited, except for Shabbos, when the seven blessings may be recited even without a “new face.” Why is a panim chadoshes necessary every day, and why is it not required on Shabbos?
The chosson and kallah (bride and groom) are forgiven for their sins on the day of their wedding (Rashi, Bereishis 36:3). They are, in effect, given a “new face” – a completely clean slate with which to make a fresh start in life. Another important principle in marriage is that a Jewish home must be built on the foundations of peace and unity. The young couple must strive to understand each other, to step out of their personal desires and see the “other person.”
By emphasizing the arrival of a new person every day of sheva berachos, the young couple is reminded that they are given a totally new appearance and can make a completely fresh start. They are also reminded of the importance of recognizing the other person and welcoming him. They learn to build their new home with selflessness and love.
Now let’s understand how Shabbos is different. The Midrash says about Shabbos (Bereishis Rabbah 11:2): “Hashem blessed the Seventh Day, He blessed it with a shining Face.” Hashem created every person with a tzelem Elokim – a Divine spark that is etched on his face. If a person sins, this Divine spark begins to fade. On Shabbos, Hashem restores the tzelem Elokim to each person, by infusing him with an additional soul. This is the meaning of the Midrash that Hashem blesses Shabbos with a shining Face. Hashem’s “Face” (so-to-speak) that is etched onto every person is restored.
The possuk (Shemos 19:2) describes how Bnei Yisroel camped next to Har Sinai using the word “vayichan – camped,” which has the same root as the word “chein - grace.” Rashi comments: “Like one person with one heart.” The seforim explain the connection, that Hashem bestowed Bnei Yisroel with a special grace, which caused them to love each other and unite like one person.
It is interesting to note that Rashi comments on the verse “and [Yakov] camped next to the city” (Bereishis 33:18) that Yakov kept Shabbos there. The similarities between these two verses, both using the word “vayichan – camped,” is striking. We can learn from this that on Shabbos, when the Divine spark is restored to each person, we are blessed with a special “chein – grace.”
Now we can understand why the panim chadoshes is not necessary on Shabbos sheva berachos. On Shabbos, the couple does not need a new guest to remind them of their own “new face,” since on Shabbos everyone has a new face. Our tzelem Elokim is restored and we all have a special heavenly appearance. On Shabbos, every person can make a fresh start!
The couple also doesn’t need a new guest to remind them to build their home on selflessness and acceptance of other people, because on Shabbos we all enjoy a special unity, due to the special grace that rests on us. Because of this chein, we are united in peace.
Getting back to the original verse, Hashem wants to send us His blessing. How can we ensure that we remain worthy of this blessing? The Midrash says, “and protect you –from the yetzer hara.” When we are protected from the evil inclination our tzelem Elokim remains intact. This leaves us with a special heavenly grace, which in turn ensures that we live in peace.
This is the meaning of the verse: “Hashem will bless you and protect you” from sin, so that “His Face will light you up and grace you” with the tzelem Elokim, which will “give you peace.”
The verse is also telling us that even if we stumbled and committed transgressions, we will still benefit from Hashem’s “shining Face” – the tzelem Elokim - on Shabbos. This is hinted at in the word “vichineka – and grace you,” because Shabbos is a special day of chein and peace.
“Hashem will lift up His Face to you.” The word yiso – lift up, has the same root as nisuyin – marriage. This indicates that since a person’s sins are forgiven on his wedding day, he benefits from a special heavenly glow, which in turn helps him build a home full of chein and peace. And when there is peace, there is blessing, as our sages have said (Uktzim 3:12): “Hashem did not find a better vessel to contain blessings for the Jewish people than peace.”