Seeing With Our Eye and Our Hearts
Just last week I had my eyes dilated. It was a routine eye exam to insure that my eyes were healthy. Thank God they are. While my eyesight has deteriorated over the last few years, it is nothing that glasses cannot fix. I remember the first time I noticed my eyes were not as strong as they once had been. My wife and I were sitting in a movie theater and I turned to her and insisted that the screen was slightly blurry. She suggested that perhaps it was my eyes that were out of focus and I of course responded with the fact that I had better then 20/20 vision! It isn’t easy to admit we cannot see as well as we once did. I kept at it, movie after movie, insisting the theaters were all out of focus, while my wife, exasperated, kept encouraging me to visit an optometrist. Imagine my surprise, after such a visit, when I discovered it was me who indeed was out of focus and not the theaters!
While at times we are capable, on our own, of acknowledging that we are seeing things improperly, all too often, it takes an outside expert to help us accept our myopia. That was certainly the case with the Israelites who were sent out to spy the land of Canaan and bring back reports of what they saw. The word used in the beginning of the parsha when God commands Moses to send out the spies is vayeturu, literally “and they shall look carefully.” They traversed the land, glimpsing its richness, as it flowed with “milk and honey”; and yet, they returned feeling despondent, fearful of the giants in the land whom they felt would surely destroy them. Ignoring the fact that God promised them this land, these spies were only able to perceive the dangers, the failings and the challenges. It took Joshua and Caleb to show them what their eyes (and minds) clearly couldn’t see. Yet, they refused to listen and so they were made to wander the wilderness until they died out, and a new generation, with clearer eyesight and greater faith in God, would inherit the land.
No wonder the parsha concludes with a warning commanding the wearing of tzitzit, “v’lo taturu acharei l’vavchem v’acharei eineichem, do not let your heart or your eyes lead you astray.” Using the same Hebrew verb that began the parsha, latur, “to look carefully,” we are reminded how easy it is for our eyes to go astray and to miss the things on which they should focus.
Like the tzitzit, our tradition offers many tools and guides to help us see better with our eyes and our hearts. Observing the commandments attune us to the opportunities to find God and our responsibilities as partners with God. Organizations such as Jewish World Watch present contexts to help us see the world through Jewish lenses thereby providing ways we can act holy and walk justly in this world. Our challenge is simply to open our eyes and to focus on those opportunities to make a difference.
Rabbi Richard Camras
Shomrei Torah Synagogue