Face Time

February 28th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

The defining question of our times: Are people no more than sophisticated baboons?  Are we the product only of random, materialistic evolution?  Why does it matter?  Because if the answer is ‘yes’ then whenever men do bad things, they do so only because of genetic imperative or imposed societal influences.  It would mean that humans have no more choice about their behavior than do baboons.  The political, social, criminal and economic consequences of how this question is answered are colossal.  The past fifty years of American cultural change substantiate this assertion.

The consequences to the personal and business lives of individuals are no less significant.  If I decide that, like bears, bunnies, and baboons, I too must act upon urges, appetites, and emotions, neither my wife, children nor my business partners can ever truly trust me.  As a business professional of this bent, I would mistakenly assume that my employees and customers have only materialistic desires, assumptions that would surely mislead my enterprise.

Yet to any genuinely curious person with no axe to grind, the evidence that humans are distinctively different from all other species of life on the planet is overwhelming.  We are the only species that will imperil our physical bodies in order to gain some spiritual solace.  We risk damage to our systems by absorbing alcohol, drugs and tobacco for non-physical benefit.  Some of us engage in risky sports for non-physical benefits like a rush or a thrill.

I am not attempting a complete catalog of differences between people and animals; that would take a book.  But I do intend demonstrating one of the more remarkable distinctions.  For the most part, animals’ faces tend to remain constant throughout their lives.  Human faces change as we live, reflecting character and morality changes.

For instance we all recognize the dissolute face of the debauched and self-indulgent Sir John Falstaff, as Shakespeare portrayed him.  By contrast, the sharp and alert face of a senior career military officer reveals a life time of self-discipline and patriotic dedication.

Regardless of the sweet looking face he once wore as an adolescent choir boy, the man who has spent half a lifetime acting brutally on violent impulse has developed a face of focused feral resentment, concentrated malignity and outraged egotism.  We all instinctively know to avoid provoking the owner of that face.  The priest who has spent years caring for the needy has developed an entirely different looking face.

Abraham Lincoln was said to have insisted that, “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”  Indeed, we are the only species whose face eventually begins to reveal the inner character of its owner.  What is more, we are the only species capable of learning how to read the faces of others.

Ancient Jewish wisdom encourages us to read faces.  It is based on three timeless truths about faces, or to be more accurate, about the Hebrew word for face—PaNiM.

פנים

First, ‘face’ is one of only three words that is repeated within the profound and mysterious first two verses of the Bible.  In those 21 words, we encounter God mentioned twice, earth mentioned twice and face mentioned twice.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 

 (Genesis 1:1-2)

These three words, repeated for emphasis, address the basic triangle of reality: God, the world and humans. Although not created yet, the word face hints at that future creation.

Sure enough, dating sites on the web report that profiles that carry even just one picture of the hopeful dater’s face obtain over ten times as many responses as those that comprise only written descriptions.  We can know more about a person by looking at the face than we can by observing the elbow, shoulder, or knee.

Second, the Hebrew word for face, PaNiM, is a plural word.  This is because the Lord’s language recognizes that during our lives, unlike animals, we will wear many faces.  Not only will our faces reflect maturing and aging, but more importantly they will begin to reflect our inner characters.

Third, the word PaNiM also means inside or inner which teaches us that the face is the window into the inner part of the person.

You know how much more assiduously you search for your lost keys if you know that they are definitely in a certain room.  You keep searching because you know you will eventually find them.  But if you have no idea where they could be you never search quite as diligently.  Similarly, ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that the face is the best indicator of the person. Now that we know this, we will diligently search for how to read faces.

What is the best way to develop this skill?  By meeting and getting to know as many people as possible while training oneself to observe spiritual hints.  Police detectives often learn to catalog criminals by modus operandi which enables them to examine a crime scene and attach a name.  Most of us intuitively catalog people in our minds in terms of jobs, relationships, geography and name.  With a little focused effort we can accustom ourselves to linking face, personality, and character.  It’s a useful ability for those occasions when quickly evaluating a stranger is necessary.  It’s also useful to remember that by modifying our own characters, we can eventually modify our faces.  As King Solomon put it, “A happy heart makes a cheerful face…” (Proverbs 15:13)

And this is true for no other creature on the planet.  Humans are touched by the finger of God.

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24 comments

Susan says:

My mouth seems to naturally downturn, at rest. It requires conscious effort to change it, which I don’t do in private, though I try to in public. Seeing other people naturally animates my face. I feel a great joyousness in my being, especially as I’ve drawn closer to the Lord through the years. What do I do about my “grumpy resting face” (as they seem to call it)? What if that IS my face???

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Susan–
Actually we truly are what we do in private-not what we do when others are watching. Therefore, maybe try making conscious effort to change it while alone as well for about a month or six weeks and see what happens. You know the description, “he’s a bit down at the mouth”, right? Well, you might succeed in not only changing how you look but also how you feel! I’m sure your ‘grumpy resting face’ is not your real face! Good luck
Cordially
RDL

Michael Weaver says:

Dear Rabbi Lapin, I first became aware of the importance of a person’s face after reading your book, “Buried Treasure”, which contains a section on Panim. I have tried my best to interview prospective employees with this knowledge in mind. One curious note I wanted to share with you is that I noticed that finer wrinkles in my own face become more apparent after a period of dieting. I believe that being overweight may somewhat lessen the appearance of wrinkles and thus make reading of such a face more difficult.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Michael–
How very interesting! It doesn’t shock me that dieting might make wrinkle lines a bit more pronounced. (Probably still worth it!)
But reading faces is not made much more difficult by age wrinkles I don’t think. Character transcends age. Character is ageless. Like my car it needs maintenance but unlike my car it doesn’t rust.
Cordially
RDL

Susan Parker says:

My Mother always told me,”What you have in your heart shows on your face.” My Dad would talk about people whose character he was evaluating by saying they either did or didn’t “have a clear look out of his eye.” I learned to explain what she meant, but never could put into words what he was talking about. However, I learned to use both skills, to my great advantage.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Susan–
And your mom was quoting Proverbs 15:13 all along! It’s a bit sobering isn’t it? Realizing that to those who can read it, our face reveals our inner thoughts. And apparently your dad also had the ability. They eyes reveal much but so does the set of the mouth and so much more. The face has so many more muscles than it needs for breathing and eating.
Cordially
RDL

Thanks, Rabbi; this was what I needed today. I wholeheartedly agree about the distinctive differences between humans and other animals; however, anyone who has ever been owned by a dog can tell you that dogs can indeed read faces! Only humans can laugh.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Yes, Deb!
Absolutely. What you say is true and it is mind-bogglingly amazing how these wonderful animals do it. But, yes, most dogs actually can read the faces of their owners. But of course they can’t change their own faces in accordance with their natures. Spouses can often read their partners’ faces with great precision also. The sales professional who acquires the ability to read faces enjoys a huge competitive advantage.
Cordially
RDL

bob aronson says:

Teacher i saw the subject line “FaceTime” and thought you were sending a personal message to me that you wanted to actually FaceTime.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Bob–
Yes, I do know what you refer to. It was about employment. When possible, we’ll respond directly by email. Meanwhile, onwards and upwards.
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Bob–
Selecting ‘subject’ line wording is always a balance between eye-catching and misleading. Hope we didn’t err on this one. But that FaceTime feature on Apple’s iPhone is really something. I sometimes feel sad that many today who never knew dial phones connected to the kitchen wall simply can never know the sheer thrill and utter exhilaration of holding a real “Dick Tracy” type communication device in the palm of their hands. Who would have known?
Cordially
RDL

bob aronson says:

Teacher I was referring to an interaction you and i had last week or thereabouts on a previous Thoughttool comment i had written…. and you asked me to get in touch with you which i did, but i have yet to receive any reply from you….so i thought when i saw “Face Time” in the subject line that you were going to interview me via Apple FaceTime….

Gene says:

Rabbi
The phone from my childhood was yellow and the cord would almost reach to every room in the house.
I had so much fun dialing our own number (the last four digits) and hanging up, running to the next room to watch my sister answer the phone with nobody on the other end.
Course you can only trick your sister so many times before she finds you out.

Dear Rabbi,

Gee, thanks a lot. Just one more book that I need to read. Humorous sarcasm intended…if you could see my face and heard my voice you would have figured that out already. Thanks to you and Mrs. Lapin for your dedication and hard work.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You’re welcome, Louis–
I never apologize for recommending a good book. Of course we catch your humor and greatly appreciate it. We can almost hear you chuckling, so thanks!
Cordially
RDL

James says:

Dear Rabbi, kindly forgive my tardiness (Actually I could not access last week’s Thought Tool: perhaps a rogue mail server garbled my hyperlink?). So here I go: I have received a NG gift subscription from a family member for over 30 years! That family member telephoned, aghast at the theme of this January issue and demanded that I hide it from view, lest our young and impressionable might see it and have their little minds warped, and also offered to terminate my gift subscription. So I advised: please calm down, the kids will get the LGBTQ message from the pop culture anyway (TS Jazz Jennings has now inspired a popular plastic doll), and probably from the school system, as well. But yes, I continued, you can discontinue our gift subscription, because the worthy magazine over the past ten years or so seems to have become rather a Party Organ for Progressive Narrative: solar and wind power, global warming and climate change, and now the gender dysphoric cafeteria, where you can stand in line and pick out the gender variant of your choice. If Narrative Geographic, who needs Pravda? And we are now trying to downsize anyway. As the Journal of Irreproducible Results long ago reported, hoarding old issues of NG is causing our continent to sink into the ocean (Tee hee hee).

Like you, I have loved that magazine for decades. And since TCT I have loved your astute Biblical explication of panim ‘faces.’

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello James-
I really like the way you articulate the failure of secular fundamentalism and what NatGeo has become. I did use to hoard them! But no longer. Future cultural historians will ponder how prestigious mags like NatGeo (and also Scientific American) so quickly abandoned their mission and surrendered to cultural hysteria
Let’s FACE it!
Cordially
RDL

James says:

Exactly, Rabbi! No point in saving FACE!

Mark Lampe says:

Wow, another excellent commentary! My spouse and I were discussing this phenomena not long ago and it is true, she says that observing faces and body language speaks volumes about an individual before they even speak.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Mark–
yes, indeed. You’ve noticed. Since we are souls with bodies wrapped around us, it is no surprise that our souls influence our bodies so noticeably. Nice to be able to talk about these things with a spouse. Be grateful. Not everyone can.
Cordially
RDL

Christel says:

RE: the second definition, meaning FACES plural…certainly it is true that our face changes over our lifetime, but I think it is also true that we wear many faces simultaneously, which of course, makes face reading a bit harder.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Great point, dear Christel–
We actually do mention this in the chapter on the word ‘Face’ in our book Buried Treasure-Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language. We are supposed to wear different faces, for example to our spouse and to the checkout clerk. Ideally though, the character behind the face stays the same.
Cordially
RDL

Lisa says:

Even in her eighties my mother is a very pretty women on the outside but she has a heart made of ice. All she has ever cared about is appearances. I wish some of her cruelty showed on her face.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Lisa–
Perhaps it does show but your deep, and perhaps hidden feelings for her prevent you from seeing her as others do? I hope you manage to reconcile with her.
Cordially
RDL

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