Rabbi Alex’s Blog: To See or Not to See

Categories: Rabbi Alex's Blog

To See or Not To See

After a recent Shabbat morning service, since not everyone in our congregation reads the Chronicle or attends services, I was asked to reprint the following sermon in the Kol:

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Moses brings together the entire people Israel and says to them: “You have seen all that God did before your very eyes to Egypt; the wondrous acts that you saw with your own eyes. Yet, to this day, God has not given you eyes to see.” (Deuteronomy 29:1-3)

One of our leading theologians and philosophers of the 20th century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “One may see great wonders, but remain entirely insensitive.” Or, as our wives may put it, “You may hear me, but you are not listening?”

How can one see but not see? We see what we want to see. A colleague of mine once related a story to me that I could only find on a Norway Immigrants News blog about only seeing what we want to see:

It was the custom of the old man to sit outside the wall of the ancient city where he lived by the gate. One day, a stranger approached the old man and asked, “I am thinking of moving to your city. Tell me, sir, what kind of people live here?”
The old man replied, “What kind of people live in the city where you’re from?”
“The people in my town are unkind,” said the stranger. “They cheat and steal and lie; they speak badly of each other. I am leaving that town because of the undesirable people who live there.”
The old man gazed sadly at the stranger and said, “I’m sorry to inform you, but you will find the same type of people in this town.” And without a word the stranger turned and walked away.
A short time later, another stranger came down the road towards the gate. He, too, stopped to chat.
He said, “I am thinking of moving to your city. Tell me, sir, what kind of people live here?”
The old man asked the same question, “What kind of people live in the town where you’re from?”
The stranger replied, “The people in my town are good. They are friendly, courteous, and are always looking for an opportunity to do a good deed for someone. I truly hated to leave that town because of the warmth and kindness of its people, but my work requires that I move.”
The old man clasped the hand of the traveler and said, “You’ll find the same type of people here. Welcome to our fine town.” The stranger walked in happily through the gate.
No matter where you go or what you do, you will find in other people just what you are looking for. If you search for the good, you will find it; but if you look for the bad, that is what you will undoubtedly see.

It’s not always about what we see, but how we see it. “One may see great wonders, but remain entirely insensitive.” This High Holiday season, let’s try to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Let’s look for the best in each other. And, we too, can behold the great wonders all around us.

I want to leave you with a story our very own Maggid Daniel Seigel related to me following services: A couple moves into a new home. The next morning while they were washing dishes, the woman looks out her window and sees her neighbor hanging the laundry on the line outside. “That laundry is dirty!” she said, “Why do I have to look at my neighbor’s dirty laundry?” Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time her neighbor would hang out her washing to dry, the woman would make the same comments. Sometime later, the woman was surprised to see nice clean laundry on the line and said to her husband: “Look, she has finally learned how to wash her laundry correctly.” The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

LeShana Tova,
Happy New Year,
Rabbi Alex


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