What is countenance/פָּנָ֛יו? Face? Something more specific? What is the nimshal?

Always wondered. Thanks.

Apparently I need more words to post the question so, happy Purim everyone!

  • 2
    Would you give me the Hebrew of the phrase in question for a more in depth answer? Thanks.
    – BID
    Mar 7, 2023 at 22:01
  • Eg second and third part of Cohanic blessing 'panav' (see edit)?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 7, 2023 at 22:02

4 Answers 4


There are several options:


Rashi writes (1 Sam. 16:7) that countenance מראהו, as the posuk writes, means "appearance".

The same appears in the Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra Rabbah 1:1):

אִישׁ [ה]אֱלֹהִים בָּא אֵלַי וּמַרְאֵהוּ כְּמַרְאֵה מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים

The Targum on Bereishis 4:6 says it means features of tha face.

And the L-rd said to Kain, Why hast thou anger, and why are the features of thy face downcast?

According to the Rabbeinu Yonah on Avos 1:15, it means:

"and receive every person with a pleasant countenance": That he show them a happy face, so that 'the spirit of creations find pleasure from him.'


The posuk in Bamidbar 6:25 says:

May Adonoy cause His countenance to shine upon you and favor you.

Rashi explains that this means that "He will show you a cordial face, a shining face.". According to the Or HaChaim, this means that there is no seperation between Hashem and the Jewish People. This connects to the idea that the Ibn Ezra gives us. He writes:

It means may G-d make his face to shine upon you when you ask something of Him and at the time that you make the request.

So, the idea can be that when Hashem causes His countenance to shine upon us, G-d may immediately fulfill the request.

The Kedushas Levi says something interesting. He asks the question:

how is ‎it possible for a mere creature, a human being to entertain ‎feelings of pride or glory when facing his Creator?‎

He answers this by saying:

By contrast, our verse confirms that G’d Himself bestowed ‎glory on His people Israel. He did so in order that they find grace ‎in His eyes.‎

G-d bestows glory on the Jewish People, this is what countenance can also means.

Chassidus (Chabad)

According to Chabad-Chassidus, the countenance of Hashem can also mean that we are able to connect to G-d "face-to-face" so to speak.

This refers to the emanation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in a manner that allows them to be received “face to face”;19 i.e., the revelation of His inner will illuminates the source of the Jewish souls.

According to this, "the light of his countenance" is the light of G-ds infinity (Or Ein Sof) (see also the Maamar Basi Legani - 5711: Chapter 5)

According to the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, Likutei Amarim, chapter 22), the term countenance exemplifies:

the inner quality of the Supernal Will and true desire, in which G‑d delights to dispense life from the realm of holiness to everyone who is near to Him.

It is the supernal will of Hashem, it "is the source of life which animates all worlds."

  • 1
    Wow Shmuel thanks. One thing that sin leads to is the inability to look someone in the face (both ways, the sinner can't look at the victim in the face, the victim can't look at the sinner). The Kedushat HaLeivi seems to imply that in your answer. Also, imagery of the Keruvim on the Aron come to mind in Or HaChaim's statements. Do you think I am understanding things correctly? If so, the Alter Rebbe seems to be explaining the inner side of this...
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 10, 2023 at 13:17
  • @RabbiKaii Yes, I think that is the deeper meaning of that Or HaChaim. :). Great observation!
    – Shmuel
    Mar 23, 2023 at 18:38
  • 1
    Look at this Rashi! sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Exodus.34.30.1
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 24, 2023 at 1:10

One position of the commentators on the cohanic blessing you mentioned is that it means that Hashem will accept you favorably; when it says "יָאֵ֨ר יי פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ /Hashem will make his face shine upon thee" we can interpret it similarly to "Hashem will show you a smile" it of course does not mean literally, you can read the commentators here if youd like: https://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.6.25?lang=bi&with=Commentary%20ConnectionsList&lang2=en

Ibn Ezra: THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE SHINE UPON THEE. Its meaning is the same as In the light of the king’s countenance is life (Prov. 16:15). It means may God make his face to shine upon you when you ask something of Him and at the time that you make the request. May God accept you and may His will be to immediately fulfill your request.

Rashi: THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE SHINE UPON THEE — i.e. May He show thee a friendly (more lit., smiling) countenance — a beaming countenance.

There are other positions such as "This means that there should not be a "curtain" dividing between Israel and their Father in Heaven." (Ohr HaChaim) [I do not know what this means.]

  • 1
    Thanks so much for this, it has been of great help
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 10, 2023 at 13:24

The Rambam discusses this in the Guide of the Perplexed.

The Rambam held that Hashem does not need to give his attention to every leaf that falls from a tree, as he created the laws of nature to do that. The leaf may take a wandering route, but ultimately gravity will pull it down to its destination. Animals too, Hashem leaves to the laws of nature, but gives his attention to their species as a whole. Humans on the other hand have an option. We have the ability to do mitzvot, and by doing mitzvot Hashem turns his attention to us as individuals. This is what is meant when we say Hashem turns his face to us. Not that Hashem has a physical face, but he is giving us individual attention to make sure the chaotic laws of nature bring no harm to us. On the other hand, when we sin Hashem turns his face away from us and we are susceptible to random harm.

Guide of the perplexed 1:37 ו׳פנים׳ גם כן שם ההזהר וההשגחה ״לא תשא פני דל״, ״ונשוא פנים״, ״אשר לא ישא פנים״ – וזה הרבה. ולפי זה הענין גם כן נאמר: ״ישא יי פניו אליך וישם לך שלום״ – רצונו לומר: הלוות ההשגחה בנו. Another signification of the word is “attention and regard.” Comp. “Thou shalt not have regard (pene) to the poor (Lev. 20:15); “And a person receiving attention (panim)” (Isa. 3:3); Who does not show regard (panim),” etc. (Deut. 10:17, etc.). The word panim (face) has a similar signification in the blessing, “The Lord turn his face to thee” (i.e., The Lord let his providence accompany thee), “and give thee peace.”

Rambam's opinion of divine providence really builds throughout the book, but he overtly begins stating his opinion in Part 3, 17

  • Ooh lovely and answers another question I've had for a long time. Which exact MN passage is this? I am learning it now but haven't got there, seems likely in the first part?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 23, 2023 at 9:42
  • I will try to look it up, but I’ve lent out my copy. This may be putting together a couple of his passages, as he builds upon definitions to explain his reasoning. There is definitely a section dealing with face being a term that has multiple meanings, and when applied to Hashem it has nothing do do with physical form. Out of curiosity, which other question of yours did I answer?
    – zaq
    Mar 23, 2023 at 10:41
  • Not any question I've asked here but I have recently been wondering if Hashem does have, so to speak, this concept of paying attention in some places more than others, as opposed to infinite equal attention to every last atom etc. Was good to chazer Derech Hashem 2 as I think it might also deal with that.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 23, 2023 at 11:04
  • I posted the passage where the Rambam directly equates “The Lord turn his face to thee” as meaning The Lord let his providence accompany thee
    – zaq
    Mar 24, 2023 at 3:18
  • Thank you. That phrase is quite obscure isn't it
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 24, 2023 at 3:24

Just to add a bit more :)….

The Chizkuni says in Bamidbar 6:25- יאר ה׳ פניו, means that the Kohen says the wish that G-d will grant the listeners life, as it says in Mishlei 16,15: באור פני מלך חיים, “in the light of the King’s face there is life.”

The Haemek davar (ibid)- Says that פניו refers to the Shechinah

Aderet Eliyahu (ibid) says- יאר ה' פניו אליך means to shine you the light within the Torah so that you don't only learn the peshat rather ויחנך that you should also be able to learn sod (the secrets/Kabbalistic side of the Torah).

Resheit Chochmah (https://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.6.25?lang=bi&with=Reshit%20Chokhmah&lang2=en)- that Hashem should enlighten you by giving you the reasons in the Torah and its details.

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