This week's Torah portion, Naso, gives the strange instructions for a person who wishes to be a Nazir, a person dedicated to the service of God beyond the usual requirements. The portion describing the Nazir is followed immediately by the instructions for the priestly blessing, the fifteen words that the priests use to bless the community.
What is the connection? Why does chapter 6 of Numbers contain these two, apparently unrelated elements, the Nazir and the priestly blessing? It is possible that they are two different answers to the same question: How do we come to see the face of God?
The Nazir is a person (either a man or a woman) who has taken a special vow to sanctify his or herself to God for some definite period of time. The Nazir obligates him or herself not to drink anything with alcohol and not to eat anything made from grapes—not just wine, but also vinegar, raisins, grape skins or fresh grapes. The Nazir also must not cut his or her hair for the entire time of the vow. The Nazir also must avoid all contact with death and forego participation in any funeral, even for a mother or father.
The rabbis of the Talmud viewed the whole idea of a Nazir with great suspicion. They found hints in the text to suggest that the Nazir was really someone who wanted to aggrandize him or herself by taking on extra obligations to flaunt his or her piety. Today, we might say of such a person that he or she is "holier than thou," someone more interested in how they are perceived by others than in developing a sincere love of God.
If the Nazir represents the person who must saddle him or herself with an ostentatious display of piety in order to feel closer to God, the priestly blessing represents a more modest approach. The blessing at the end of chapter 6 states:
May Adonai bless you and guard you.
May Adonai's face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May Adonai's face be lifted to you and grant you peace.
This is the other way of seeing God's face. There is no need to make elaborate vows or to punish yourself with severe restrictions. All it takes is the willingness to be blessed—to allow God's face to shine upon you graciously with no questions asked and no extraordinary demands made.
The chassidic master, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efrayim of Sudylkov, went even further. He stated that the words, "May Adonai's face shine," means that your face should shine like God's face. May you yourself become the face of God (Degel Machaneh Efrayim).
In order to see God's face, you don't have to make yourself into a martyr or make a great show of how pious and scrupulous you are before God. All you have to do is to allow yourself to know that you are blessed by God, just the way you are. Then God's face will shine on you. Then your face shall be God's face.