See What I Mean? R'ei 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 9:54am -- lcanfield

Approximately 65% of the population are visual learners. Although only 10% of secondary students are auditory learners, 80% of teachers are among this 10% of the population.

Our portion begins with a nod to the Visual, the command form of the verb ‘to see’: Look! I’ve placed before you a blessing and a curse. 

I checked the concordance, the book that lists every occurence of every word in the Bible, and the imperative to Listen/Sh’ma is heard around 200 times whereas some variation of the verb to Look/R’ei appears about 137 times. Not an overwhelming Nat-Silver-like-slam-dunk-preference but, when observing more closely the content and context of the Torah and its rabbinic interpreters, there is a clear preference for hearing over seeing.

1. We’re commanded by the rabbis to Listen/Sh'ma at least twice a day (some more traditionally will do four a day, six on Saturday). We’re not commanded to recite any of the Look/R'ei commands.

2. Okay, I lied. Sort of. The paragraph we say twice a day (twice, really) to look at the fringes of our Tallit to remember the commandments/mitzvot does tell us to look at something. However, there is a subtle difference in the language. Rather than 'command' mode, the simple 'future' tense is used. Further, the duty to look at the tzitzit is coupled with a strong caution against being led astray by what we see, by being distracted. 

3. Even in our portion when cautioned to ignore false prophets who instruct us to act counter to God’s commands (Deuteronomy 13:2-5) there is a verse that gives us every modality in which to obey the divine except or sight.

  a. After God you should walk

  b. Hold God in awe

  c. Keep the mitzvot

  d. Hear God’s voice

  e. Worship God

  f. Hold fast to the divine

It makes sense to de-emphasize sight when our God is unusual in the ancient world as a non-visible deity. Anything we look at could be mistaken for that divine presence.

I remember many years ago being reprimanded for using the term ‘See what I mean?’ with a blind person only to have a visually-challenged friend object, ‘We say that all the time!’

Indeed, just because one’s retinas don’t function doesn’t mean one is incapable of metaphor.

It’s very likely that the first word of our portion is just that, not a command to literally ‘see’ the blessing and the curse but rather a mandate to ‘understand’ the significance thereof.

See what I mean?

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp

Hazzan