Seeing is Believing?

I do not like TV, and there is no nice way to say it. yes, I know here and there, there are good shows, but on the whole… Last night, I wrote down what commercials we’re bombarded with in a supposedly 30 minutes show (really 20+). Depending on the hour, it might include – cars, internet service (“it’s good for your kids’ homework”, said in a squeaky voice), clothing (young kids around 7pm; cool high schoolers around 9:30pm), vacations, more cars, more “stuff” (“you can’t cook with this oven”), of course beauty products (if you use this shampoo, you’ll look like her) and even the joys of gambling.
I’ve trained my family to turn off the sound during commercials which sometimes, when I’m lucky, extends into the programs. Then I can examine only what we see. Alternatively, sometimes I sit with my back to the screen and treat the programs as if this is a radio. Try it: each one comes with its own oy as to what we’re exposed to day in and day out.
The Book of Deuteronomy continuously juggles between shma and re’e, listen and see, the two main senses we use to absorb the outside world. This week, our focus is on our eye sight.
We’re often not aware of the power of our eyes. We drive along and all of a sudden think, how did I get here… we read a full page, then realize, we don’t know what it says. The opposite happens too: we see things we don’t intend to, and those, undoubtedly, have an effect on us. Last night, along with my TV experiments, I tried to be a “good” and caring citizen and watched the news. I confess, usually I don’t and last night I remembered why. Who can sleep after watching bombing, a beheading, abuse, threats, death caused by an avalanche (in Tilden Park!), dangerous animals, drought, fires, bad weather and on and on. Makes one wonder, what do we use our eyes for?
Interesting, at the end of this week’s Torah portion, we’re told about aspects of the kosher laws (which animals we can eat). It hints that just as we choose what to put inside our stomachs, we should watch what we feed our eyes. One of the non-kosher birds is the ra’a (with an alef, spelled like re’e). We have a teaching that the forbidden animals are forbidden because of their internal qualities which we do not want to imbue. The Talmud says about the ra’a that, being a prey bird, “it stands in Babylon and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel”. This is the Talmud’s way of warning us from those times when we’re confused (Babylon, Bavel, related to the root for bilbul, confused) and we criticize things we don’t understand from afar. Simplistically, it can be “us” outside of Israel misunderstanding what’s going on there, but this goes way beyond the current “matzav” and politics, and is largely about any such situation where we hasten to condemn things we don’t fully understand. The eyes’ have the danger is being superficial, as opposed to the ears, which are more internal.
It is interesting to look into where the verb “lir’ot”, to see appears in the Torah. The first is G-d who checks what he created and “sees that it is very good” (Genesis 1:30). There are those who say that G-d did not just “see” the world like we would, but that He put the power to see the world as a complete, full picture. It is easier for us to see the world in separate, often unrelated pieces, but creation was one and we are called to see it as such.
A couple of other places to note the verb “lir’ot”: when Abraham took Isaac to the akeda, it says he “saw the place from afar” (Genesis 22:4). The midrash says that he asked Isaac what he sees, and Isaac said he saw a pillar of fire stretching from heaven to earth atop the mountain. Then he asked his servants, who said they saw nothing. Hence he said to them, “sit here (and wait) with the donkey” (22:5). Donkey in Hebrew is chamor, from the same root as chomer, materialism. Seeing then had nothing to do with what objectively was ahead; but with what was inside each one. This is not the only place where the Torah suggests that seeing a matter of choice; a matter of what’s in one’s heart (check Number 15:39).
And on the other hand, at the height of our closeness to G-d, at the Giving of the Torah, it says: “and all the people see the sounds”… We didn’t hear the sounds, but saw them. There was no separation. We were one and our senses were one.
And last favorite voice on this: Sforno, the Italian commentator of the early 1500’s, says that re’e here is a serious warning: “see, I set before you blessing and curse” – two opposite extremes. You might think, says Sforno, that there are more options in between, but don’t be fooled. There aren’t. The in-between is already a curse. The good news is that the choice is ours. Therefore, we don’t need to “hope” to see a blessing come our way. Just like we choose our food and even music, we can choose to see it, pursue it and thus bring it into our lives.
Shabbat Shalom.'e

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