The Hebrew word for face is panim, a word conjugated in the plural. It has been said that a plural form is used because our countless expressions afford us many and varied faces, each conveying a different mood, thought, reaction. Given the many Hebrew expressions associating human emotion with facial color, we may assume that our face is not only a mirror of emotion, but a kaleidoscope as well.

"A tallit (prayer shawl) that is all blue" — a mocking designation for a person who presents himself as a perfect saint, without any taint or flaw.[1]

Talit she'kulah tekhelet

"His face became black like the soot on the cooking pot" — a description of how a man's face looks, when he is overcome with deep sorrow or shame.[2]

(Hishhiru panav k'shulei kedera)

From the phrase, (hishkhir et panav) — lit., made his face turn black; or embarrassed him — we have the wonderful expression: "Things that a person does in his childhood, make his face turn black [with shame] in his old age."[3]

(Devarim she'adam oseh b'yalduto mashhirim panav l'et ziknato)

The expression (he'edim et panav) — literally, "he reddened his fellow's face," means, of course, that he embarrassed him. This association being so obvious, we move on to less likely hues.

Someone who has embarrassed another person in public causes him to pale, hence (hilbin et panav) he caused his face to turn white. So serious is the sin of embarrassing a person in public, we learn from the Talmud, that, "Anyone who causes another person's face to turn white in public, it is as if he has spilled blood."[4]

(Kol ha'malbin penei haveiro ba-rabim, k'iloo shofeh damim)

To show a friend one's white teeth, is a way to welcome him kindly and warmly.
The Talmud teaches, "It is better to show your white teeth to your friend, than to serve him milk." [5]

(Tov ha-malbin shinayim le-haveiro yoter mimashkehu halav)

Great potential material here, it seems, for a good television commercial for milk, don't you think?!

And finally, the English green of envy becomes the Hebrew green of anger in the phrase: (Horik panav ke-neged) — it made his face green [with anger] against so and so.
For more about a face that is painted over with color (zavu'a; read "hypocritical") see the Hebrew article in this COLOR edition.

[1] JT Sanhedrin 27:4 [back]
[2] JT Hagiga 77:4 [back]
[3] BT Shabbat 152a [back]
[4] BT Baba Mezia 58b [back]
[5] BT Ketubbot 111b [back]

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