Judaism: Seeing and Hearing
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Torah portion begins with the words;
“Re’eh - See, I give you today a blessing and a curse . The blessing, that you will listen (heed) the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not listen (heed) the commandments of Hashem your G-d, …... (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
One is struck by the use of the verbs "to see" and "to listen" in the same declaration. Those are clearly not similar actions and they bespeak different spiritual experiences as well.
When discussing the verse in Exodus "And all the people saw the sounds."( Exodus 20:15) The Sefat Emet writes;
"... hearing and seeing are two different things, the one unlike the other. … For one who sees, perceives the seen object in perfect manner as it is without any change. But one who hears – the sound changes as it enters his ears and is no longer as it had been sounded. This is the advantage of seeing. Hearing has an advantage in that it brings that which is heard inside the person himself by way of the ear, while seeing is from the outside. (Sefat Emet, Shavu'ot, 5635).
Furthermore our "sight" is accosted with a totality of what is before our eyes. We see many things at exactly the same time. In some ways, we have a sense that we are able to comprehend “the full picture “of an event at one instant in time.
Our sense of hearing necessitates absorbing the experience in a sequential fashion. Listening is a physical action that necessitates listening to one note after another. It perceives the world in a comprehensible fashion and it does so with sensitivity to the nuances of sound and melody. We therefore have to fashion , build and somehow organize all the information we receive from our ears. We do not only hear the particular sounds, but sense the emotions connected to them as well.
To listen is to understand and to spiritually absorb. “Hear O Israel Hashem is G-d Hashem is one.”
It is clear though that both senses are necessary for spiritual growth;
"In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see."(Isaiah 29:18)
In this week's Torah portion G-d reinforces the power of free choice. "See, I give you today a blessing and a curse .". That choice needs to be rooted in two differing levels of appraisal.
On the one hand, one needs to understand context and the whole picture .That is the essence of “seeing”. The possibility of choice necessitates that all the options are laid before every one of His creations. That is to say” in plain sight.”
On the other hand the eyes can lead one astray;
“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, … and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”( Genesis 3:6 ).
At times we may believe that we understand the whole picture and ignore the individual pieces that are critical to achieve that full picture.
The antidote is in finding the power to change that “sight” into “vision”. Sight is the ability to see the physical reality around us, while vision is the power of seeing within and beyond it. How then, is such a metamorphosis achieved?
This antidote is found in the power of “listening”.This is the essence of dealing with the details of the journey. That is the secret of obedience. So G-d explains " The blessing, that you will listen (heed) the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I command you today;".
This is very true in our individual journeys. The only way to make sense of our journey and understand the implication of our destination is by focusing on the individual steps we make. The “little picture” is the “big picture”. It is about listening to the individual notes and melody of the Torah. "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching( Proverbs 1:8)."
Yet this fact is also relevant to the Nationhood of Israel. The government of Israel sees the full picture of the reality around them .They see the looming Iranian threat and the pressure from our "friends and allies”. They see and understand the dangers surrounding and threatening to engulf this land. Yet they do not stop to listen to the nuances and the details.
They forget that every aspect of the journey must be true and pure or else the destination will be missed. A futile self-defeating gesture like the release of bloodthirsty murderers is a serious deviation from the ultimate purpose. It is not simply a “painful but necessary” step. It is a blatant misstep that is not only self defeating and irresponsible, it is so deeply hurtful and painful to so many in this land. It is “a turning a deaf ear” to the soul of this country
We need to “see” and keep in mind the full picture but we cannot avoid “listening” to the sound of the individual notes of our national journey.”See , I give you today a blessing and a curse . The blessing, that you will listen.. and the curse, if you will not listen ..”
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved