Face-to-Face Communication: The Silent
Exchange of Body Language
Rabbi Shay Tahan
ופניהם איש אל אחיו (שמות
The act of looking at someone's face is a powerful social cue that
goes beyond mere visual contact. It signifies openness, engagement, and a
willingness to connect. In contrast, avoiding eye contact or turning away can
convey a sense of unease, lack of trust, or even intentional avoidance.
When you look someone in the face while engaging with them, it
communicates a profound sense of love and respect. It signifies that you value
their presence, acknowledge their humanity, and are genuinely interested in
connecting with them on a personal level. By making eye contact and focusing on
their expressions, you convey sincerity, empathy, and a willingness to listen
Conversely, avoiding eye contact or refusing to look at someone's
face can convey a lack of regard or even disrespect. It may imply disinterest,
discomfort, or a sense of superiority, sending a message that the person isn't
worthy of your attention or consideration.
In many cultures and social contexts, looking someone in the face
is seen as a fundamental aspect of communication and interpersonal connection.
It fosters trust, strengthens bonds, and builds rapport between individuals.
It's a nonverbal way of saying, "I see you, I hear you, and I value you as
a fellow human being."
In essence, the act of looking someone in the face reflects a
deep-seated recognition of their worth and an affirmation of their dignity.
It's a powerful gesture that transcends words and speaks volumes about the
love, respect, and empathy we feel toward others.
The Gemara in Yerushalmi (ערלה פ״א ה״ג) says: מאן דאכיל דלאו דיליה, בהית
לאסתכולי באפיה, meaning that someone who receives food
from others feels embarrassed to make eye contact with them.
Conversely, there are situations where looking at someone's face
is encouraged, such as when learning from a teacher or receiving guidance.
The Gemara (הוריות
יב,א) suggests the pasuk: ״והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך״ (ישעיה ל,כ) to
the positive impact of gazing at a teacher's face during studying torah,
emphasizing the importance of visual connection in the learning process.
Another Gmara says (Eruvin 13b): אמר
רבי האי דמחדדנא מחבראי דחזיתיה לר' מאיר מאחוריה
ואילו חזיתיה מקמיה הוה מחדדנא טפי
Rebbi mentioned in that the reason he excelled in sharpness
compared to his peers in yeshiva was because he paid attention and looked at
In the context of the Parasha, the depiction of the Keruvim
(golden figures resembling babies) in the Mishkan serves as a symbolic
representation of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. The
orientation of the Keruvim—either facing toward each other or turned
away—symbolizes the spiritual closeness or distance based on the fulfillment of
Hashem's will and mitzvot. This visual imagery reinforces the notion that
facial expressions and visual cues play a profound role in conveying emotions,
connections, and spiritual alignment across various facets of life.
A challenge to the aforementioned concept is presented in a letter
that the Ramban wrote to his son in Catalonia regarding the practice of
humility. He instructed his son to read this letter once every week, to teach
it to others, and to commit it to memory, aiming to instill in them a reverence
for Heaven from a young age. The Ramban assured his son that the day he read this
letter, his prayers would be answered from Heaven. Furthermore, those who
regularly recited it would be spared from all suffering and guaranteed a share
in the world to come.
In his writings, he emphasizes humility with the following words:
"Therefore, I will now explain to you how to always behave humbly. Speak
gently at all times, with your head bowed, your eyes looking down to the
ground, and your heart focused on Hashem.
Don't look at the face of the person to whom you are speaking. Consider
everyone as greater than yourself. If they are wise or rich, show them respect.
If they are poor and you are richer—or wiser—than them, consider yourself guiltier
than them, and regard them as more worthy than yourself. For when they sin, it
is likely through error, while your transgressions are deliberate, and you
should know better!"
According to the Ramban's writings, the correct approach is to
avoid looking directly at someone's face while speaking to them. However, it's
crucial to understand the intention behind this guidance. The Ramban is
instructing individuals on how to cultivate the traits of modesty and humility.
If one indeed lowers their gaze for these noble reasons, it is praiseworthy. In
such a case, the act of lowering one's eyes is expressive and visibly
demonstrates their commitment to these virtues.
However, there's a distinction to be made between someone who
consciously chooses to lower their gaze as an expression of humility and
someone who avoids eye contact out of discomfort or intimidation. The former
reflects a deliberate effort to embody humility, while the latter may indicate
different underlying motivations or insecurities.
(Report an improper chiddush)