Kabbalat Panim – A blessing on gathering after a long time apart

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, July 29, 2021

Jewish life and Jewish living is about continuing to expand our radical amazement of the universe and keep opening us to the Source of Creation. To that end, to keep us mindful, open, and aware, we have in our Jewish toolkit blessings for almost every occasion. (And if one doesn’t yet exist, we have permission to create our own bracha [blessing]).

As many of us are now able to reunite with loved ones and friends, to gather in person, what is the blessing for kabbalat panim (literally “receiving or welcoming their faces”)?

The familiar Shehecheyanu blessing, which praises God for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach a special occasion, is most appropriate. In the Talmudic tractate on blessings (Brachot 58b), the rabbis cite these words as a blessing that should be recited upon seeing a friend for the first time after thirty days. The commentary on it tells us that the intention is to say or sing Shehecheyanu for reuniting with a close friend(s), whose month-long absence is deeply felt with the result that the reunion gives one true joy. The same would be true on reuniting with a family member or teacher.

But what about beyond thirty days? In Talmudic times, if your friend had traveled abroad and you reunited after a year, you would recite the blessing of Mechayei Meitim, a bracha of thanks that your friend has been revived from the dead. Rabbinic teaching on this is that twelve months is the completion of a full year of mourning for someone who has died, and after a year of your family member or friend’s absence, you might have given up hope of ever seeing them again. In that day and age, hearing nothing from a friend or family member for a full year – no letters, or hearing nothing from a mutual friend or acquaintance about their wellbeing, you might have to consider the possibility that they had died. Mechayei Meitim celebrates the fact that they are still alive after a long period of hearing nothing.

In this pandemic we have been fortunate to have modern technology to connect us. While we have been physically apart from one another, we have made connections and kept up with to our friends and family members through phone and email, and Facetime and Zoom, and social media, and even postal mail. It’s a blessing to be able to connect in these ways. This is true if our family or friends live far away, or during the challenging separations that we have been living through during Covid-19.

So we can say or sing Shehecheyanu, because of the joy of being reunited with our friend(s) or family members that we have been separated from; we feel that joy of kabbalat panim, receiving their faces in person, even if we connected on the phone or on Zoom or through email and text messages during this long period of physical separation.

Alden Solovy, Reform liturgist, has also written this blessing:

The Blessing of Faces
So many beautiful faces,
So many radiant souls,
Shining forth
Into our hearts.

Look at those eyes.
The smiles.
The hopes. The fears.
The yearning. The questioning.
The compassion.
The love.

Take it in.
Take it all in.
The tenderness.
The humanity.
The blessing of faces
Arrayed before you.
The blessing of faces,
And received.

© 2020 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com
Join us to learn more about prayers and blessings with Alden Solovy on Monday mornings at 9am, for four sessions on Mysteries of the Machzor! As we prepare for the High Holidays, Alden will lead us in conversation, exploration, and prayer.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

« Read more articles