15 Iyyar, 5773
April 24th, 2013
30th Day of the Omer
A lot of Torah is learning how to see.
I suppose this is true for any area in life requiring depth; doctors, lawyers, teachers, parents, artists, judges, professors, analysts, marketers, actors, writers – all learn to see what is before them in light of their concerns: are these symptoms a disease? Is this action legal? What does this child need? Why was that historic event significant? From learning to look well, they gain an added measure of usefulness and worth.
And when their sight is especially clear and exceptionally penetrating, we share their vision with the rest of the world, and record their names in the annals of the great.
Paradoxically, the first step towards clear sight is learning what to ignore. “Do not be led astray after your hearts and your eyes, which you prostitute yourselves by following after them.” (Numbers 15) The verse is obviously true – all of reality television is a testament to its wisdom.
But there is a deeper meaning: when it comes to human beings, sometimes one must look beyond a whole lot of external detritus to see the goodness of the soul underneath.
This ignoring-in-order-to-see is a mitzvah: “See – today I am setting before you blessing and curse.” (Deut. 11:26) “…and choose life, so that you may live.” (Deut 30:19) It is a wise requirement, for there is great pain waiting for those who can only see the shmutz in those around them.
It’s also damn hard. We all present plenty of distractions to the people in our lives – reasons why they should not see the goodness in us. Some days, those distractions are very hard to ignore.
Luckily, in my life, I have my colleague and friend, Rabbi Shira Stutman.* If there were ever a master of the choice to see the good, it would be her.
So choose for yourself a sighted companion, someone who can guide you in the art of seeing well. It is the secret to a blessed life.
*Rabbi Shira is also my supervisor. She was recently voted one of the Forward’s most inspiring rabbis in America. For these gifts and talents, I have taken it upon myself to torture her mercilessly. It’s my special way of showing affection and appreciation.