“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse;
The blessing that you will hear…
and the curse, if you will not hear…”
The title of the weekly Torah portion usually epitomizes its content. Moshe Rabbeinu in his fiery speeches in Sefer Devarim frequently utilizes the motif of hearing: “Shema Yisrael.” In our parsha too, Moshe speaks of the power of hearing as the root of the blessing: “The blessing that you will hear.” However, the parsha opens with the word “re’eh,” which means “see,” and this word was chosen as the parsha title.
In order to understand the profound meaning of a word in the Torah, we usually look at the first time it appears. The first time we read about the human sense of sight is in the story of the tree of knowledge:
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and then they heard the voice of God.”
Chava sees the fruit of the tree, desires it and is unable to resist eating it. According to Kabbalah, if Chava had waited only three hours until the beginning of the first Shabbat, she and Adam would have been allowed to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
As an outcome of their sin, Adam and Chava open their eyes, but in fact they lose their sense of sight. Until this moment, their sense of sight was a divine and spiritual sense, a vision that penetrates deeply and observes the inner reality. Their sin, which resulted from looking externally and superficially at the fruit of the tree, blocked them from being able to see more deeply.
That is why Adam and Chava suddenly see their bodies and are ashamed of their nakedness. Before the sin, their vision penetrated through the screen of the body and they saw into each other’s souls. After the sin, they also lost their ability to see God and they were only able to hear His voice. The new reality of blindness to the inner reality is frightening, which is why Adam says to God:
“I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
When the Children of Israel stood at Mount Sinai, we were given a second chance to reacquire that spiritual sense of sight that enables us to see the internal reality:
“And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.”
Rashi in his commentary explains that seeing the voices was an extraordinary sensory experience: He explains: “They saw what was audible, which is impossible to see elsewhere.” This intense seeing experience frightened them too, and they asked Moshe to make this stop and allow them to return to using the normal sense of hearing:
“You speak with us, and we will hear, but let God not speak with us lest we die.”
Eventually, Moshe ascended alone to meet God, and the people, in an act of impatience, made the golden calf and caused the breaking of the tablets and the loss of that special sense of inner sight.
I believe this is the message that Moshe Rabbeinu is trying to convey in his phenomenal speech in our parsha. He teaches us to adopt other “glasses for life,” which are glasses for inner vision. Inner vision requires restraint, patience, courage and depth. Not everything that looks sweet on the outside is good on the inside. The power of desire that blinds Chava’s eyes is a power that contemporary culture glorifies. Many advertisements rely on our desires to promote products, and this adds layers of blindness to our inner vision of reality.
Similarly, not everything that seems painful and upsetting is actually to our detriment. When we face major challenges in life, when someone hurts us or causes us pain, we have the choice whether to become victims or survivors, with the courage to recognize that reality can serve as a mirror for us. Sometimes the people who hurt us reflect faults that exist within us and need fixing.
The Sages taught us: “Everyone who disqualifies someone else, disqualifies them with his own flaws.” Someone who sees a defect in others is afraid to look inside themselves and therefore inflicts their weaknesses on others. Understanding our own reality, and looking in the mirror that other people sometimes hold up for us, enables us to use our inner vision. Such inner vision can allow us to grow out of any crisis, instead of blaming others for our troubles. Adam and Chava blamed others for their errors and perhaps that was their biggest mistake:
“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree; so I ate.”
“The serpent enticed me, and I ate.”
In contrast, Moshe Rabbenu tries to teach us how to adopt that inner vision as the source of finding blessing in our lives.
By improving our inner vision, by putting on new glasses and seeing the world through different eyes, we can hear God callings to us through the events in our lives, through our social interactions and through our closest relationships. “The blessing that you will hear.”
If we can wear these perceptive new glasses, we will see immediately, even during the current crisis, how even the most excruciating challenges we face are designed for our benefit. When we find the courage to look inside ourselves we can understand that what seems to be a curse may actually be a blessing. These are the special inner-vision glasses that Moshe Rabbenu recommends for us in our parsha:
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.”
Rav Ronen Neuwirth, formerly rav of the Ohel Ari Congregation in Ra’anana, is author of “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age,” published in May 2020 by Urim Publications.