Seeing Your Face is like Seeing the Face of God

header shabbat blog Annie

In the Mishnah in Tractate Sanhedrin, our rabbis teach that each human being is an entire world.

Each human being is an entire world unto themselves AND all human beings share a common ancestor – Adam HaRishon, the very first human being. Because we all emerged from the same root, one person cannot say to another – my parent is greater than your parent.

Each human being is of equal and infinite worth.

All human beings are imprinted with the seal of Adam HaRishon, and yet, miraculously, every single human being is singular, entirely unique.

Mah Gadlu Ma’asekha Adonai – How wondrous are your works of creation, Adonai!

This powerful teaching in Mishnah Sanhedrin appears in the context of a discussion about capital punishment and the procedure for questioning witnesses in capital cases. The burden of proof on a witness is so great, the moral responsibility so hefty because human life is at stake. As the Mishnah illustrates, each life is precious, etched in the image of the Divine. Each person is a microcosm of eternity, a bridge from the beginning of time to the World to Come. Because of this, we are obligated in Jewish law to act with meticulous care for the human beings in our midst, with an awareness that we are responsible for each others’ lives.

My dear friend and teacher, Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, gifted me with a powerful book by Valerie Kaur, a civil rights lawyer, activist and leader in the Sikh religious community. The book is called See No Strangers: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. Valerie Kaur shares a teaching, rooted in the Sikh tradition that reminds me of our Mishnah:

“What has been an ancient spiritual truth is now increasingly verified by science. We are all indivisibly part of one another. We share a common ancestry with everyone and everything alive on earth. The air we breathe contains atoms that have passed through the lungs of ancestors long dead. Our bodies are composed of the same elements created deep inside the furnaces of long-dead stars. We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say – as a moral declaration and a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact: You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

Our Mishnah, too, invites us to view one another with this sense of wonder, saying, “You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

Or as our forefather, Jacob, says to his twin brother Esau in this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, when they are reunited after years of estrangement:

כִּ֣י עַל־כֵּ֞ן רָאִ֣יתִי פָנֶ֗יךָ כִּרְאֹ֛ת פְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהים

“Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”

It has been a week of wonder and gratitude. I was moved on Monday to offer a song at the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast leading into the inauguration of our Montgomery County Council members and County Executive alongside Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Hindu and Zoroastrian spiritual leaders. Wednesday night, many of you from our Shaare Torah community gathered with neighbors at Kentlands Square to light the menorah, to commit to being lamplighters in our community, so that we might see the holiness of each and every person we encounter of every identity and background. This morning, Matt Oziel, our Board President and Vice President, Brian Abraham and Judy Potasznik, and I joined with other leaders from our Shaare Torah community at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s Legislative Breakfast, where we thanked our representatives and elected officials for their service. Our civic leaders shared their visions for our beautiful Montgomery County, State of Maryland and United States of America as places where we celebrate our differences and stand together against antisemitism, racism, homophobia and hatred in all forms.

“You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

“Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”

This season, what might it feel like to bring this kavanah, this intention, to our interactions, digital and in-person?

To say in our hearts as we greet one another at shul, on the street, in the carpool line, in a Zoom meeting, by the light of the menorah – “You are a part of me I do not yet know,” and “Seeing your face, is like seeing the face of God.”

What would be different in the world if each person traveled in this way?

May we remember always that each of us and all of us are manifestations of God’s light in this world, and that we are part of one another.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Annie