As the Sabbath morning Amidah is concluding, we sing: Sim shalom tova u’verachah - O God, grant peace, goodness, blessing and favor to us, to Israel and to all the world. The prayer continues ki b’or panechah - literally ‘for by the light of Your face, O God’ – you have given us a love of kindness.
What does or could that mean? Remember, the Torah says that when Moses asked God: “Pray, show me Your glory,” God responds: “No one sees my face and lives.” So how should we understand ‘by the light of the Divine face’ do we discover and nurture our love of kindness?
The answer is given in this week’s portion, Vayishlach. The brothers Jacob and Esau had been estranged from one another for many years. Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing from Esau. Esau, in turn, swore revenge and plotted murder. But when the two meet again the brothers embrace. They are reconciled. Jacob presses his brother to accept gifts, but Esau refuses. Jacob entreats his brother further and says: “If for no other reason than seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”
When we see or when we experience kindness, compassion, forgiveness; When we see or help someone who is wounded to be made whole; When we see others acting as we understand God would act and wants us to act, that is as close as we mortals ever come to seeing the face of God.
And when we attune ourselves to seeing the face of God in the kind actions of others, that in turn can inspire in us the impulse to respond in kind. It is in the seeing and the receiving of acts of loving kindness, that the love of kindness is born and grows. And when we in turn perform gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, then others may well begin to see the face of God in our actions as well.
We see the face of God when we see the honor that others bestow on their aged parents; when we see others helping the bereaved perform the rituals of mourning, or when we see others rejoicing in the achievements and celebrations of their friends and neighbors. It is possible to see the face of God in the ones who drop a coin into the outstretched hands of the needy. So who looks like God to you?
Or to put it in a slightly different but more important way, who looks at your actions and thinks this is like seeing the face of God?
If you are approaching life in an honorable, upright, compassionate and caring way, observing the ethical and moral commandments of our tradition, then I am relatively sure that there is someone out there who when they look at you, it is as if they too were seeing the face of God.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote: We cannot make an image of God but we can be an image of God.