It’s a simple word, but with so many connotations. The word is פני, literally translated as face. In this week’s parasha the word פני appears numerous times. It is said (Bereishis 32:4) וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, then Yaakov sent angels ahead of him, and it is said (Ibid verse 21)וַאֲמַרְתֶּם גַּם הִנֵּה עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב אַחֲרֵינוּ כִּי אָמַר אֲכַפְּרָה פָנָיו בַּמִּנְחָה הַהֹלֶכֶת לְפָנָי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן אֶרְאֶה פָנָיו אוּלַי יִשָּׂא פָנָי, and you shall say, ‘Moreover –behold your servant Yaakov is behind us. (For he said, “I will appease him with the tribute that precedes me, and afterwards I will face him; perhaps he will forgive me.”) It is said further (Ibid verse 22) וַתַּעֲבֹר הַמִּנְחָה עַל פָּנָיו, so the tribute passed on before him . It is said further (verse 31) וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם פְּנִיאֵל כִּי רָאִיתִי אֱ-לֹהִים פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי, so Yaakov called the name of the place Peniel – “For I have seen the Divine Face to face, yet my life was spared.” Lastly It is said (Ibid 33:10)וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אַל נָא אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי מִיָּדִי כִּי עַל כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱ-לֹהִים וַתִּרְצֵנִי, But Yaakov said, “No, I beg of you! If I have now found favor in your eyes, then accept my tribute from me, inasmuch as I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of a Divine being, and you were appeased by me.” What are all these faces about and what lesson can we learn from this?
In order to answer this question, it is worth examining a Gemara in Sukkah (5b) that discusses the word פני. The text of the Gemara is:
אמר רב אחא בר יעקב רב הונא פני פני גמר כתיב הכא אל פני הכפורת וכתיב התם (בראשית כז-ל) מאת פני יצחק אביו ונילף מפנים של מעלה דכתיב (בראשית לג-י) כראות פני אלהים ותרצני
The Gemara is proving that the measurement of the Kappores, the gold slab that covered the Ark in the Mishkan, was a tefach. The Gemara proves this from the verse that states מאת פני יצחק אביו, from the presence of Yitzchak, his father, and this was said when Yaakov had received the blessings from Yitzchak and he was departing from his father. Yaakov was leaving after having honored his father and Esav was entering to honor his father with the prey that he had snared in the fields. Esav and his progeny’s merit throughout history was his fulfillment of the mitzvah of honoring his father. Yaakov feared this merit and even later on Moshe expressed concern about battling Amalek, Esav’s grandson, because of this great merit.
When Yaakov sent messengers to Esav, the purpose was to determine if Esav still was angry at Yaakov and if he would renege on his promise not to kill Yaakov while Yitzchak was alive. Thus, Yaakov sought to appease the פנים, i.e. the face of Yitzchak, who Esav merited to honor. Interestingly, the word פני, when employing the methodology of מילוי (literally filled, where one expands each letter to be a complete word) we have פ”א-נו”ן-יו”ד, which equals in gematria the word יצחק. Yaakov ultimately declares “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of a Divine being, and you were appeased by me.” Yaakov is hinting to Esav that it is true that Esav has the merit of honoring his father, who is “the face” of the family. Yet, he, Yaakov, has a greater merit, and that is that Yaakov merited seeing the Divine “face to face,” i.e. Yaakov did not limit his mitzvah performance to earthly gains. Rather, Yaakov honored his father and performed all 613 mitzvos for the sake of Heaven, and this was a far greater mitzvah.
We are children of Yaakov, and we must always remember that in addition to the mitzvos that we perform to “the face” down below, we are required to invoke “the Face” Above, as all of our actions must be for the sake of Heaven.
Have an “Above Face” Shabbos!