Some of the Torah commandments are quite baffling. And I am not talking about the commandment to eat certain foods, or keep Shabbat; not even peculiar things like separating wool and linen, or meat and milk. Those are all maybe strange and arguable but easily doable. Then there are the Deuteronomy mitzvot, like “love!”, “hear!”, “see!”
If we’re commanded, it follows that there is something to do which we are capable of doing. Specifically, that love is not just a “feeling” but an action; and that so are our senses. There are not automatic, involuntary reactions, but there is / can be /should be an intentionality in them and in how we apply them to the world around us.
Today, reading the first word of the Torah portion – “Re’e” meaning “see – really, really reading it and taking it to heart – is enough. There is no need to go on. You can skip the rest here. The only thing is, if we could just stop and open up – and I am purposefully not adding “our eyes”, but just open up – and see.
When Abraham takes Isaac for the Binding journey, it says: “and Abraham lifted his eyes and saw that place” (Genesis 22:4), and immediately in the next verse, he instructs the lads traveling with him to stay with the donkey (Genesis 22:5). What happened between? The midash adds that Abraham saw G-d’s presence on the mountain. Isaac saw it too, but the lads accompanying them saw nothing. Abraham then told them, “stay here with “donkey”. Donkey, in Hebrew, chamor, shares its root with chomer, materialism, as if saying, ‘you stay here with what’s obvious; we’ll go beyond’ because real seeing has to do with more than noticing “stuff” around us as is.
The Torah addresses seeing elsewhere. In the Book of Numbers (15:38-41), it says, “Do not wander after your heart and after your eyes which lead you astray” (15:39). The background is the commandment to wear tzitzit, which I won’t go into now, but just look at the order in that verse again: heart before eyes! Implying that what determines what we see, is our heart, not our eyes; that in order to “see” better, we need to fix with our heart. And just to make things more confusing, some say that in the Torah, the heart was the seat of the mind (while the kishkes / internal organs was the seat of feelings)!
At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we’re told about aspects of the kosher laws (which animals we can eat). 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. What’s wrong with the ra’a? The Talmud says that, “it stands in Babylon and sees a carcass in the Land of Israel”. Simplistically, it can mean that those outside of Israel misunderstand what’s going on there, but alternatively, it is the Talmud’s way of warning us from those situations when we ourselves are confused (Babylon, Bavel, related to the Hebrew root for bilbul, confusion) and we judge things we don’t understand from afar, using our eyes superficially.
It is always interesting to check where a word first appears in the Torah. For seeing, it is when G-d checks His creation and “saw the light that it was good” (Genesis 1:4). There are those who say that G-d did not just “see” the world, as in glancing over, but that He put in the ability to see it as good and as a complete whole oneness; that potential He gave to us too. It is not an easy thing to do. Therefore, we’re reminded that we need to use it. We need to stop and really, really “see”.
Shabbat Shalom from NY.