SIGHT v VISION
Rabbi David Walk
In Jewish tradition we consider seeing more significant than hearing. I say this because there are many natural phenomena which require a blessing when observed, like lightening, rain bows, blooming fruit trees, oceans, shooting stars, and the list goes on. However, there is only one natural phenomenon which requires a blessing for hearing, and that's thunder. I think that our tradition considers auditory experiences generally to be more subtle, more under the radar than sight. Of course, the exception is thunder which is hard to ignore. On the other hand, generally it's easy to ignore attacks on our ears than on our eyes. I mention this reality this week, because every year we try to understand what was unique about Avraham our patriarch. What was it that made him God's partner in the development of a covenantal community here on planet earth? I believe it was in his powers of observation.
We have a clear example of this when we compare the observations about Israel of Avraham and of his nephew
A few verses later, God tells Avraham to do the same activity: "Please raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward (verse 14). However, Avraham then chooses the area around Hebron in which to live, not because it was the most desirable financially, the coastal plain was more fertile, but because he saw spiritual significance. This was the highest location in the central part of the country, and had a holy aura. This would become
I believe that this information helps to explain the great quandary: Why did God pick Avraham and not, Chanoch, Noach or even, Malkizedek? Normally to answer this question traditional authorities refer to Midrashic sources, referencing stories not recorded in the Torah. They tell stories of Avraham noticing a burning palace, which represents this world which must have a master, there are tales of Avraham working in his father's idol emporium, and one myth describes Avraham being thrown into a fiery furnace for his anti-polytheism positions, sort of a prehistoric witch burning. These legends each teach important lessons about Avraham's devotion to God and the cause of monotheism, which we are expected to emulate. However, I find this approach problematic, because it seems to me that such an important question, such as the choice of Avraham to represent God in this world, must have evidence in the text. It's just too central to our belief system to leave it to the Midrash and rabbinic lore.
Therefore, let's go back to our premise that Avraham noticed things that others didn't quite become aware of. The S'fat Emet (Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerer Rebbe, 1847–1905), who himself seems to have noticed things other commentaries missed, makes a remarkable observation. He suggests that the announcement which opens this week's Torah reading was a general call. When God said: Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation (Genesis 12:1-2), the message was available to anyone who tuned in. Only Avraham did. I think that we disagree with Robert Frost. It's not about roads less traveled. It's about what you pay attention to on the road you're traveling, even if it's
Spiritual greatness derives from this ability to recognize divine opportunities in the most unlikely settings. If Avraham came to
We've just completed our heavy holiday season. During those precious days we recited the Yizkor prayer twice, less than two weeks apart. Since I started reciting Yizkor 27 years ago, I've felt that this was an opportunity to reconnect with my dad and try to remind myself of ways to emulate his many good qualities. We should do the same with these Torah readings until the end of the book of Genesis. We must read these sacred stories with the aim of learning how to behave in the turbulent world. Avraham can be seen as an example of how to look at the world around us with a different filter than mundane society expects.
Let's look at the world the way of Avraham did; let's see and hear things too ethereal for normal eyes and ears; let's notice opportunities to bond with God and to connect to our fellow man. He saw these prospects everywhere, so must we.
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