Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 12 September 2020 / 23 Elul 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Thirteen: "Facing" Reality

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who crowns Israel with splendor.”

Our Sages explains that the “splendor” mentioned in this blessing refers to the Tefillin Shel Rosh — Tefillin that are worn on the head. In a certain sense, donning the Tefillin Shel Rosh in the morning is the final moment in our preparations for beginning our day. We have clothed ourselves physically and now we “clothe” ourselves spiritually. The Tefillin sit on the “crown” of the head and, as taught by the Rabbis, they open up a conduit between us and Hashem, one that gives us the opportunity to connect to Him in a significantly enhanced manner. Tefillin are a means of connecting our intellectual selves to the spiritual dimensions. Anecdotally, in 2002 an article appeared in theChinese Journal of Medicine mentioningTefillin. The writer explained that the spot where the Tefillin sit on the cranium is precisely the same location where acupuncture needles are inserted in order to increase spirituality and to purify thoughts.

The head is the seat of the intellect, and Judaism teaches that it is not by chance that the head is also the highest part of the body. The Maharal of Prague explains that humans, unlike animals, are created to walk in an upright position because it is a reflection of our spiritual potential. We are the only creation that has the ability to be both physical and spiritual. Our feet represent the more physical part of us, firmly placed on the ground. The head represents the spiritual side of us, pointing upwards towards the spiritual realms.

Interestingly enough, it is the face that reflects our emotions. Physiognomy — the means of assessing the character of a person by studying their facial features — has always been around. Since the beginning of time it has been used to judge the emotional state of a person and to make broad judgments about a person’s character. It was extremely popular among the ancient Greeks, and during the Middle Ages, and in the eighteenth century it became the biggest fad of its era. In fact, it is still studied today. It should come as no surprise that Judaism also teaches that the face is the most expressive part of the body. It reveals our thoughts and feelings — even when, sometimes, we wish that it wouldn’t! In Hebrew the word for face is “panim”. The word panim comes from the word “pnim” — inner. Revealingly, the word “panim” is plural, because the face is the meeting point between the two worlds that we inhabit simultaneously: our inner persona and our outer one. Our faces reveal our inner identity to the outside.

The Rabbis teach that the face is the portal to the soul. That is why the face of a truly spiritual person will reflect their innate sense of Divine connection. The saintly Chofetz Chaim used to ask why people polish their gold and silver and jewelry. He pointed out that they were not worth any more afterwards than they were before they were polished. So why bother? And he would answer that the polish reveals the true splendor of the article. Without polishing them it is impossible to appreciate their true beauty.

So, too, a person who spends their entire life “polishing” their soul and perfecting their character will be readily identifiable to the spiritual connoisseurs of this world. This is why truly spiritual people often have an otherworldly glow to their faces. What we are seeing is their pnimiut — their inner essence.

Now we have reached the point in our journey through the Morning Blessings that our connection to G-d is so real and palpable that it is inescapable. And at this momentous occurrence we recite the blessing, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who crowns Israel with splendor”. Because there really is nothing more glorious — more splendorous — than knowing that our relationship with G-d can both transcend the physical and affect the physical at the same time.

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