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The question I would like to ask is: “Does Hashem smile?”

Everyone is acquainted with the third Principle of Faith enumerated by the Rambam: “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, may His name be blessed, has no physical body, and we humans, who have a physical body, cannot fully grasp Him and He bears no resemblance to our physical bodies.”


That answers the question, I guess. Hashem does not have a face and He does not smile in the sense that we smile. All the descriptions in the Tanach and Oral Law that refer to “body parts,” as it were, of Hashem (e.g. “The land that Hashem your G-d supervises, over which the eyes of G-d are watching, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” Devarim 11:12) are metaphoric, not literal, and serve to teach us principles that we humans can only grasp through comparison with physical human features and attributes.

The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot, positive mitzvah no. 8) quotes the verse in Devarim (28:9), “And you shall walk in His path,” as the source for the mitzvah to try to emulate Hashem. As it says in the Sifri (Devarim 11:22), “Just as Hashem is called “chanun” (forgiving), so too should you be forgiving. Just as Hashem is called “rachum (merciful), so too should you be merciful. Just as Hashem is called “chassid” (righteous), so too should you be righteous.”

In other words, we should try, to the best of our human ability, to grasp the essence of Hashem and emulate it.

There is a very famous Gemara (Bava Metzia 59b) that deals with a halachic issue concerning a specific type of oven called “tanur achnai.” This is a stone oven that has been broken into segments and reconstructed from the segments, stuck together with mortar between them (like a snake – achnai in Aramaic). Without getting into the halachic details regarding the purity/impurity of such an oven, the story relates the debate between R’ Eliezer and the Sages headed by R’ Yehoshua, about whether it is permissible to use such an oven. Despite R’ Eliezer expounding his logic and justification for permitting the oven, the majority of the Sages ruled against him and forbade the use of such an oven. Seeing that logic had failed, R’ Eliezer proceeded to bring additional, supernatural proofs that he was right – moving carob trees, making water flow backwards, tipping the walls of the Beit HaMidrash and as the piece de resistance, eliciting a bat kol, a Heavenly voice, affirming that he was right.

Despite all of the above, R’ Yehoshua stood up and retorted, “We do not accept proofs from a carob tree, from flowing water, from walls … Hashem taught us that halacha is not formulated in Heaven but here on earth and goes according to the majority decision. Our ruling stands!”

The Gemara continues, following this repartee, that R’ Natan, one of the Sages met Eliyahu HaNavi and asked him, “While this discussion was going on, what was Hashem in Heaven doing?”

Eliyahu responded, “H smiled and said, “My sons have beaten me, my sons have beaten me!”

This is perhaps the first written evidence that Hashem does actually smile, perhaps not as we do, but embodying the same deeper meaning, the essence of a smile.

We have a similar reference at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.

At the end of Shemot, Moshe complains to Hashem, “Why have You made it worse for Am Yisrael, why did You send me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, things have become worse and You have not redeemed Your people!” (Shemot 5:22-23).

Our parsha begins with the words, “Vayedaber Elokim,” reflecting the harsher side of Hashem. “Vayedaber” is a sterner form of expression than “vayomer.” Elokim is the name of G-d when He sits in judgment, as opposed to the name of G-d that is “yud keh vav keh,” reflecting His attribute of mercy.

The Or HaChaim on this verse compares a previous conversation between Hashem and Moshe at the Burning Bush to the conversation after Moshe complained. The Or HaChaim says that at the Burning Bush, Hashem appeared to Moshe with a “smiling, happy face as reflected in the name yud keh vav keh. Here, however, when Moshe complained, Hashem appeared to him with a “scary, terrifying face.”

Sefer Meir Panim deals extensively with the subject of smiling, reflected by the shape of the Lechem Hapanim, which resembles a smiling mouth. Meir Panim quotes the Or HaChaim saying that the name yud keh vav keh embodies a smiling face, and this is Hashem’s “facial expression,” as it were, when he is getting nachas from His children, Am Yisrael, as in the story of “tanur achnai” above.

This is what the Gemara (Brachot 30b) means when it says “gilu bi’reada,” – rejoice and tremble. We are commanded to serve Hashem in joy, but at the same time we must tremble in awe of Him.

This is how we end the tefillah on Yom Kippur – by repeating seven times, “Hashem (yud keh vav keh) Hu Ha’Elokim” – acknowledgement of both Hashem’s faces – and to serve Him in joy and awe.


Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: During the plague of blood, what would happen if a Jew and Egyptian both drank with straws from the same cup of water?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Shifra and Pu’ah were only the nicknames of the chief midwives. What were their real names? Shifra was Yocheved and was so named because she improved the fetus (from the root of the word shiper). Pu’ah was Miriam and was so named because of the “wooing” sounds she used to comfort the newborn infants (Rashi, Shemot 1:15).

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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.