Simcha Bunam of Peshischa on Parshat Naso, from Kol Simcha.
The LORD spoke to Moses saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them: “May the LORD bless you and watch over you. May the LORD cause His countenance to shine upon you and favor you. May the LORD raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.” Numbers 5:22-27
The Midrash Rabbah asks how God could raise His countenance toward someone, that is, favor him — doesn’t the Torah say that God “does not raise His countenance” and favor one person over another? It is as if the Holy One of Blessing says, “As they raise their countenances to me, so I shall raise mine to them. For I have written in my Torah, you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless. But when a Jew sits with all the members of his house around him, and they have nothing to satisfy them yet still raise their faces to Me and bless Me over an olive’s worth of food as over an egg’s worth (1), then I will raise My countenance to them.”
This statement is wondrous to understand!
I understand it this way. If a common person gives another a cheap gift, then the receiver hardly considers it at all. How different it is if a king gives the gift: then, even if it is just as small, the receiver values it greatly, because it came from the king. It is the same with the matter of the blessing after meals. The Torah says we must bless only after becoming satiated. But since we know that it is the King of Kings of Kings who gives bread to all creatures and who supplies the needs of every living thing and supports all creation, then even an olive’s worth is considered great in our eyes, and we derive such pleasure from it because we kn0w it comes from the hand of God.
This is the meaning of the midrash. When we look at who is the giver, and not at what is given, then we are raising our faces to God, and God raises His countenance to us as well. The reverse is also true. God takes great delight in our service — the meager service that we can provide before Him — because He looks at who offers it: human beings of limited minds who nevertheless strive to serve God. Understand this, for it is deep.
Sources: God does not raise His countenance…Deuteronomy 10:17; you shall eat and be satisfied…Deuteronomy 8:10 (this is the source for the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after meals);
1) An egg’s worth is the halakhic standard for satiety, yet the halakhah demands that we say Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after meals, if we have eaten so much as an olive’s worth of bread.
Jeff Amshalem is a graduate student of Hasidic thought at Ben-Gurion University.