What We See

Photography by Paul Reiffer

Deuteronomy Chapter 11

כו  רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם--הַיּוֹם:  בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה.
כז  אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה--אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מִצְוֺת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם.
כח  וְהַקְּלָלָה, אִם-לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְוֺת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וְסַרְתֶּם מִן-הַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם:  לָלֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתֶּם.  {ס}

26 See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse:
27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day;
28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known.

So much of how we live our lives is based upon what we see. And here, I’m not speaking about physical seeing, so much as how we understand what our optic nerves are transmitting to us.
This week’s Parashat Re’eh from Devarim/Deuteronomy explores various ways in which what we see must be addressed.
This past week, two black men were beaten by police in a Miami Beach hotel and police body cameras as well as a bystander filmed what occurred.
What the police officers are “seeing” and what observers are “seeing” are two different “seeings.”
The police are seeing a dangerous suspect who needs to be punished for either hurting a police officer or filming an arrest. And what we observers are seeing is a helpless suspect or innocent bystander getting beaten up when they are not a threat any longer.
Both of those are correct “seeings”… to the individuals involved. And of course everyone has heard of the radically different testimonies eyewitnesses give in court about the very same event they clearly “saw.”
So what does this teach us?
So much of life is how we CHOOSE to see what our optic nerves are transmitting. Let’s acknowledge that how we perceive is a choice. And therefore, not nearly as black and white (forgive any hints of punning) as we often think our experiences are.
This doesn’t mean that our feelings aren’t real. They are. But — and this is a crucial ‘but’— it means that even our feelings, powerful as they are, could be different IF we had chosen to frame the experience we had differently in our own minds.
Another example, the practice of indentured servitude (sometimes translated as ‘slavery’ in the Torah) was widespread in ancient times because the only commodity that poor people had to offer to their debtors was themselves. (Which can teach us all how poverty in developing countries is on a different plane of magnitude than the poverty we see in developed countries, to which any sensitive traveler in those lands can attest.)
In our parsha, The Blessed Holy One through Moshe tells the people:
“When you set him [your indentured servant] free, do not let him go empty-handed: Furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat, with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Bear in mind that you were slaves in the land of Egypt…” (Devarim 15: 13-15)
Why do the people need to be reminded they were slaves in Egypt?
Answer: it hopefully causes them to perceive the freeing of the indentured servant differently than they otherwise would have... ideally with more empathy, compassion and engagement than without that mental framework.

And in our lives today, how might these same words help us feel more compassion for:
a) the poor person who is has limited choices due to their poverty,
b) the ex-con who is being set free after years in prison,
c) the newly sober addict who is seeking a life free from addiction and…
d) fill in more examples that come to mind.

So if we have a choice in how we choose to perceive, does the Torah have any suggestions as to what we SHOULD choose? Not surprisingly, the answer is a wholehearted ‘yes.’
In our same parsha, we are called to consider the import of the following declaration:
You are children of the Lord your God… For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:1-2)
What if we chose / decided / set an intention to see ourselves, our lives and all those we meet as “children of G!D?”
What if we lived each day and felt at each moment that we are holy beings consecrated to / dedicated for / sanctified in the service of The Ultimate Holy Blessed One.
What would happen if you and I truly, deeply, completely set these words upon our hearts, living them so our lives were examples of holy service, keeping them in mind at home and outside in the world, at the first moment of consciousness in our day and the very last moment of consciousness in our day, setting up tangible reminders of these words so that we wouldn’t forget them when we got too busy or distracted?
We would effectively embody people who “love G!D with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.”
Ken Yehi Ratzon—May It Be So!

Shabbat Shalom