When we look at the Siddur (prayer book) and examine our prayers, the most mentioned sense is our ability to see. This makes sense since one of the primary concerns of our requests of God is not allowing our eyes to lead us down a dangerous path of behavior.
We begin each new day with these words: “Praised are You, Adonai our God, who rules the Universe, giving sight to the blind.” This prayer is almost immediately followed with: “May we find grace, love, and compassion in Your sight and in the sight of all who look upon us, this day and every day.” Then, later in the service, as part of the three paragraphs of the Shema, God commands us to literally look at the tzizit, the fringes of the tallitot we wear, so that we will be reminded of God’s mitzvot and fulfill them, not being seduced by our hearts nor led astray by our eyes.
So too, there seems to be an overwhelming focus on our eyes in this week’s sedra Parashat Re’eh. As the portion begins we are instructed to focus our eyes on God as the Almighty speaks to the Israelite people and says, “See this day, I set before you each and every one of you a blessing and a curse…” It is interesting to note that Moses begins his words to the Israelites with the command ‘See’, when Moses is actually not showing them any visual aids at all. Moses is merely standing before them and speaking.
Didn’t our parents teach us that we see with our eyes and we hear with our ears? But in our parasha the Israelites are being asked to see with both their eyes and ears. Interestingly, the Talmud teaches us that hearing is tantamount to seeing. When a person hears something, he/she does not always believe it. Perhaps they did not hear it clearly or the truth of the message was lost in the translation. And people can so easily challenge or question what they have heard with their ears. Isn’t it true that when we just hear that something has happened, it is easier for us to be convinced that we did not hear the thing accurately? However, seeing is absolute! When we see something happen with our own eyes, it is much harder for someone to make us believe that we didn’t see it.
Oftentimes we go about our daily rituals and routines and forget that sight is a true gift. We even take the act of seeing for granted and don’t take enough advantage of the wonderful natural beauty we encounter-the sun, flowers, trees, animals, and especially other people. When we behave as such, it is so easy to claim that we do not see God’s blessings in our everyday lives.
As we continue on our journey toward the High Holydays over the next several weeks, I pray that we not be led astray by our eyes, but rather, that we focus instead on seeing the tremendous blessings that are in our sight each and every day, if we only open our eyes just a little bit more!
Susan, Atara, Micah and Elan join me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from our home to yours!
-Rabbi Joseph Krakoff