While researching the Mikdash, Hashem opened my eyes to a mind-blowing connection between the Lechem Hapanim and the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim) mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, which is recited today by the Kohanim on the Festivals (in the Diaspora) and every day (in Eretz Yisrael). Specifically, the second verse of the blessing (Bamidbar 6:25): “May Hashem illuminate His face unto you and give you chen” (Ya’er Hashem Panav Eilecha Vichuneka).
Rashi explains that verse as “(Hashem) will show you a smiling face and give you chen.” We will discuss the true meaning of “vichuneka” shortly. What caught my eye was Rashi’s reference to a “smiling face.” One of the greatest discoveries Hashem granted me in researching the Lechem Hapanim was its connection to smiling and simcha. It was this that put me down the path of trying to unravel the links between Birkat Kohanim and the Lechem Hapanim.
Both are blessings. Birkat Kohanim comprises three distinct blessings: The middle verse (above) is a blessing of simcha. The Lechem Hapanim is also a blessing – for abundance, material wealth. Ben Zoma (Pirkei Avot 4:1) says, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with their lot.” The underlying principle of the Lechem Hapanim is about smiling and serving Hashem with simcha. This is echoed in the shape of the Lechem Hapanim, which resembles a smiling mouth, and by numerous hints in the text using gematriot and other methods of analysis. The gematria of the above verse (Bamidbar 6:25) is, as in Bereshit 5:1, in the “image” of G-d. In the first chapter of Bereshit we learn that G-d created man in His image; in other words, man’s ability to smile is a reflection of G-d’s face (as it were), which is a smiling face.
The secret “code” that links Birkat Kohanim to the Lechem Hapanim is the number five.
Straight off, you see that the above verse (Bamidbar 6:25), has five words. When the Kohanim recite the blessing, they use both their hands. Each hand has five fingers. These five fingers are arranged in a very specific configuration. The small finger and ring finger are adjacent to each other and touching. Then there is a gap/opening, a “crack” between the ring finger and the middle finger (crack #1). The middle finger is adjacent to and touching the index finger. There is then another gap, crack #2, between the index finger and the thumb. This makes two cracks on each hand, making a total of four cracks so far. The two hands are thus raised, outstretched, thumbs touching, like a pair of wings, with a fifth gap, crack #5, being formed between the two thumbs.
On the verse in Shir HaShirim (2:9) “My Beloved (Hashem) is like a gazelle or a deer, standing behind our walls, keeping watch from the windows and peeking through the cracks,” the Midrash says that Hashem H is likened to a deer that skips from one Beit Knesset to another to bless Am Yisrael “through the (five) cracks” (between the fingers of the Kohanim). This is why it is forbidden to look directly at the Kohanim while they are saying the blessing, because it is like looking at the Shechina (Hashem’s presence).
If you reorder the letters of the Hebrew word chamesh (five), you get the word sameach (happy). According to our Sages there are seven layers in Heaven (this is where the expression “seventh heaven” comes from). The fifth layer is called Ma’on, and it is from this layer that simcha originates.
Ben Zoma’s mishna in Pirkei Avot, above, that says a wealthy man is someone who is happy, brings a verse from Tehillim (128:2) to prove this: “By the toil of your hands you will eat.” Again, the motif of hands and the number five. The word used for hands, “kapecha,” in gematria is the same as five times the name of Hashem (Yud – Heh – Vav – Heh). The dimensions of the Lechem Hapanim are five tefachim (handbreadths) wide by ten tefachim long (multiples of five).
The verse in Bereshit (2:4) says, “These are the generations of the Heaven and the earth B’Hibar’am.” The commentaries explain this last word as “B’ Heh Bra’am,” that Hashem created Heaven and earth with the number five. The number five was an integral code/blueprint in creating Heaven and earth.
This is just a small sampling of the comparative study that appears in sefer Meir Panim (chap. 14). What is important is the practical application of all this for us today, and it all hinges on the last word in the middle verse of Birkat Kohanim – Vichuneka.
Rashi, quoting the Sifri, says that Hashem will give you chen. What is chen? What does it mean when you say that someone has chen? To even begin to understand this word would require a shiur of its own.
There is another interpretation of the word vichuneka, derived from the word “chanukah,” meaning inauguration. This word was used when the Mishkan was inaugurated in the midbar. This is the word used for the festival of Chanukah, commemorating the re-inauguration of the Mikdash by the Chashmonaim. What does the word “inauguration” mean? It means a new beginning, a fresh start. The middle verse of Birkat Kohanim tells us that by smiling at us, Hashem gives us a “fresh start.” It is like the reset button on your computer. The act of smiling has the effect of “restarting” us, wiping the slate clean and opening new possibilities. This is true in both the chemical, physiological process of smiling and the spiritual process of serving Hashem with simcha.
The practical implication of this is that when the Kohanim recite this verse, you should have a smile on your face. If Hashem is smiling at you, you should smile back. You should take this smile forward and let it permeate your life and everything you do. This was one of the main reasons the world was created.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: How many letters are there in Birkat Kohanim?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Which of the Shloshet HaRegalim never falls on (first day in galut) Shabbat? The Sages give us various abbreviations to help calculate the calendar – for example “Loh ADU Rosh,” i.e., Rosh Hashana can never fall on day Alef (Sunday), Dalet (Wednesday) or Vav (Friday). Another such abbreviation is “Loh BDU Pesach,” the first day of Pesach can never fall out on Bet (Monday), Dalet or Vav. If Pesach can never fall on Friday, then 50 days after Friday is Shabbat, then Shavuot (first day in galut) can never fall on Shabbat.