In the Book of Kings G-d appears to King Solomon in a dream. Solomon, then a young man, has just ascended to the throne of Israel following the death of his father, King David. In this dream, G-d asks Solomon what G-d can give him. Solomon tells G_D that he is just a youth with the awesome responsibility of leading the great nation of Israel. Solomon could have asked G-d for anything — victory over Israel’s enemies, great wealth for himself, a long life, Instead he asked , for “a listening heart” — a “lev shomeah” — with which to govern and to guide him to know right from wrong. It is a reminder that “listening” is not only about hearing, — it also requires the heart.
Throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, which we completed Tuesday night, Moses implores the Israelites to “listen”, to “take to heart” the words of G-d. It’s only when the Israelites do so that they might learn the lessons of the Torah and thereby prosper in the land they are about to enter. This Shabbat we begin reading the Torah again from the beginning with the Book of Genesis. The Book of Deuteronomy concludes with the word “Yisrael”. The Book of Genesis begins with the word “Beraisheet”. If we take the final letter of the word “Yisrael ישׂראל and the first letter of the word “Beraisheet” בּראשׁית we have the letters “lamed ל and “bet” ב— the word for “heart” לב. This teaches us that it is not sufficient to merely “hear” the words of Torah, we must “take them to heart”. Words of Torah cannot “go in one ear and out another” but rather must become part of us. It is in this way that they help us to develop our character and guide our behavior.
Whereas the Book of Deuteronomy implores us to “listen” the most important sense used in the Book of Genesis is related to “seeing”. When the Book of Genesis opens, there is only darkness. The first thing that G-d creates is “light”. According to the Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism, by this light one could see from one end of the world to the other and see by the light of wisdom everything that was and will be. This special kind of light is not for our world, however. It is stored away, awaiting the righteous in the World to Come.
This emphasis on “seeing” continues in the story of the Garden of Eden. G-d plants trees in the Garden of Eden that are “nechmad lemareh”, נחמד למראה“pleasant to the sight”. Adam and Eve can eat the fruit of every tree in the garden except from the tree planted in the center of the garden. A serpent says to Eve, “Did G-d really tell you not to eat of any tree of the garden?” Eve replies that it is only from the fruit of one tree that they cannot eat, lest they die. The serpent continues, referring to “sight” four times in two verses:
“You are not going to die but G-d knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be openedand you will be like divine beings who know good from bad. When the womansaw that the tree was good for eating and a delight for the eyes and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She gave some to her husband and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived they were naked.”
There are two kinds of “seeing” described in these verses. The first is physically seeing something that is beautiful, desirable, aesthetically pleasing, and physically attractive. This describes the tree and its fruit. The second — opening of the eyes — refers to wisdom, understanding, knowledge and clarity. Eve “saw” a beautiful tree. After eating the fruit of that tree, Adam and Eve “saw” that they were naked.
The connection between light, eyes and knowledge is shown in the well-known phrase from our prayers “Ve ha-er Enenu Betoratecha” — Enlighten our eyes with Your Torah. Light is a metaphor for clarity, for openness, for understanding.
Our children also learn by seeing. They continuously watch us, for better or worse. We may think they are not looking, but they are soaking up everything we do. I leave you with this poem by an unknown author:
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake just for me, and I knew that little things are special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I believed there is a God I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me good night, and I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked…and wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.