With Eyes to See

Who can doubt that miracles occur all the time?  Indeed, all of creation is miraculous.  To one with eyes to see, a flower is a miracle, the smile of a baby, the strength of a loving union, all miracles.  However, to those without eyes to see, the world can change beneath their feet and they see and feel nothing more than shifting tectonic plates.

Fifty years ago, the world shifted and a truly great miracle occurred.  In the course of six incredible days, against overwhelming odds and against enemies who wanted not only geographical victory but our existential destruction – we prevailed.  Victory was achieved by small Israel against the united strength of the Arab nations – half a million Arabs in arms, 957 fighter jets, 2,504 tanks, 1,845 personnel carriers, 962 field guns, over two thousand anti-aircraft guns.  Is it any surprise that Jews on Israel’s streets contemplated another Holocaust?

Miracle of miracles, we prevailed!  Jerusalem was reunited!  Many of us, of course, saw it for the miracle it was and offered – and continue to offer – grateful praise.

But so many others…

Parshat Shelach begins and ends with seeing.  It opens with the meraglim (spies) being instructed to spy on the land by being told, u’reisem es haaretz – “and you shall look at the Land.”  The parsha closes with the mitzvah of tzizisu’reisem oso­, “and you shall look at the tzizis.”

The lesson of the two?  That it is not enough to simply “look”.  We must also “see.”  After all, at first glance, tzizis are just hanging strings.  But, with the eyes that see, they are a constant reminder of all “the mitzvos haShem.

The tzizis do not change.  How they are seen, does!

We are visual creatures.  Our eyes are our primary sensory organs.  We look at everything around us, taking in colors, shapes, and objects.  We look, but in the process of making sense of that visual data do we really see?  Do we appreciate what our eyes take in?  Do we see with segula?

Rabbi Soloveitchik wonders, in commenting on this parasha (in Darosh Darash Yosef), why send the meraglim to begin with?  After all, God had already promised that the land would be conquered.  What more did the Children of Israel need to know?  In answering, he referred to the halacha that, “One may not marry a woman until he has seen her.”  So too he concluded, the Children of Israel and the Land.  Until we had set eyes upon the land, the holy shidduch could not happen.

Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that the verb latur (to see, discover) is used rather than leragel (to spy).  Moses sent the meraglim to the land not to conduct military reconnaissance but to discover the uniqueness of the land, to view it as the land with which our future would be forever entwined – in which our hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows would reside – not merely a land to conquer.

In this task, the meraglim fell short.

Likening them to Miriam, R’ Soloveichik observes that they did not appreciate the uniqueness of the Land of Israel; they did not see it with segulah eyes.  Just as Miriam did not appreciate the uniqueness of Moshe, the meraglim failed to see the same in the Land.  They lacked what one modern philosopher called the “spiritual pupil” of the eye.

How could one, in June 1967, fail to see with segulah the miracle that flashed across Jewish existence?  At that moment, undoubtedly God once again acted with His outstretched arm on our behalf.  For those six days, miracles abounded.  So many miracles that it was impossible to keep up.  I recall a few weeks after the war ended, a great man saying that were we to have among us prophets and leaders of Biblical stature, all Jews would be motivated to embrace God and His Torah!

Such was the feeling of living in a time of overwhelming miracles.  But, alas, like the meraglim of old not everyone saw with the eyes of segulah, not everyone recognized the miracles happening before them each day.

It is no surprise that so many people fail to see the miracles that present themselves in the world; it is no surprise that so many people fail to see the miracles that announce themselves with the boldness of the reunification of the holy city of Jerusalem.  What is surprising and oh so disappointing is that among those lacking the eyes to see are those in the observant community who purport to know God and study His ways and yet who ignore – no! who refuse to acknowledge that there is even something to ignore! – the miracle of the Land.  They blind themselves to the miracle – God’s miracle! – of our holy Land and of our holy city of Jerusalem.

I live in one of the observant community’s largest neighborhoods, perhaps the largest.  Yet, with tears in my heart, I am forced to confess that there is nowhere in my community and neighborhood to be found a shul, a beis midrash that in any way, shape or form acknowledges that Yom Yerushalayim is a day for Hallel; a day deserving of endless gratitude and exultation.  No communal home to express gratitude for all God has done for us in our generation!  Before our very eyes, He has performed miracles that recall the miracles of the Bible!

In our lifetimes, God performed miracles that our grandfathers and great-great-great grandfathers could only dream of, pray for.  Next Year in Jerusalem.

In our lifetimes, “next year” became today!

Our Sages teach in the Haggadah that, at Passover, “one must see himself as if he had just left Egypt”.  That is, we must think of ourselves as being there.  Just as we were there at Sinai when Moshe received the commandments, we were in Egypt when God delivered us with a mighty hand and outstretched arm.

But it is often difficult to personalize events that happened long ago, even if filled with wonder and miracle.  However, I would think that events that happened in our lifetimes – with no need to think of ourselves as being there because we were there – would make embracing the miracles and wonders easier.  But that seems not to be the case for many American Jews.

For them, there is something more than a time issue or a geographical issue.  There is a spiritual issue.

That is not the case for the Jews of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashdod.  For them, time and geography make the miracles of fifty years ago real.  This is not a mythical homeland, a spiritual “other”.  This is home.

How different the Holocaust felt for the Jews outside of Eastern Europe!  They too were distant.  They too had to see and not just look to feel the pain and suffering…

I often wonder what those Jews – are thinking on Pesach, Sukkos, and Purim.  What are they thinking during those days when we celebrate miracles of redemption and wonder?  Do they really identify with all that God has done for us, our ancestors, and our people?  Do they really and personally feel it? Do they dance with spontaneous joy or do they just go through the motions?  Is it wonder they feel, or just the demands of another performance?

Another ritual, another mitzvah to do but not feel.

Is it any different really on Yom Yerushalayim?

On those other chagim Hallel is uttered, certain mitzvah obligations are “performed”.  But on Yom Yerushalaim none of that even crosses the mind.  No obligation.  No performance.  No nothing.

They don’t even look, let alone see.

How different it was fifty years ago!  Even those who professed no spiritual belief, spoke of God and His miracles in 1967.  Moshe Dayan quoted Tehillim as he touched the Wall, “Zeh hayom asah Hashem — This is the day made by G-d.” The announcer for Kol Yisrael had tears in his eyes and voice as he declared, “Ani nogei’a baKotel – I am touching the Wall.”

Maariv’s headline proclaimed, “We are at the point for which we waited 3,000 years.” Yediot Ahronot cited Biblical passages. For a moment in time, Israel was touched by holiness.

God returned to Yerushalayim… and yet, and yet our “modern meraglim” diminish this great miracle; they deride, mock and even worse.  They do not see through segulah eyes.  They look, they do not see.

And let us not ever think that this is how the Gedolim of the time viewed the miracles unfolding before them!  Led by the Gadol HaDor Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l they saw and they publicly proclaimed !

Hashem “bestowed kindnesses upon us wondrously…in our generation, we have merited the revelation of K'vod Hashem [and] public Kiddush Hashem…we are like people who are drunk, like dreamers in the face of the revelations of miracles and wonders…we have merited that” the Kosel, the Me’aras HaMachpela, Kever Rochel, and other holy places “were liberated from the hands of strangers and the boundaries [of Jewish-controlled land] were expanded…”

 “With a broken and crushed heart, we mention the holy, heroic Jews who exposed themselves to danger and died making a Kiddush Hashem so as to defend the lives and well-being of the nation…may G-d remember them for good with the other highly-righteous [Jews]...

“We call upon you, House of Yisroel [to] extend a brotherly hand, materially and spiritually, for the fortification and strengthening of Eretz Yisroel.”

As fortunate as we were to be witness to the miracles of 1967, we were doubly blessed to drink from the waters of such segulah  Gedolim!

God tells the nation of Israel, “You are to be segulah unto Me from among all the nations.”  He is telling us that in order to relate to God’s holiness, we must discover and uncover the segulah within our hearts and souls.  It is only with segulah-centered seeing that we can embrace all the gifts God has given the Jewish people, including in our generation the Land of Israel!

The Talmud in Menachos comments on the techeles, the blue thread in the tzizis.  The techeles is like the sea; and the sea looks like the sky; and the sky calls to mind the Kisei haKavod – the Divine Throne.  To call to mind the Divine Throne is to call to mind all of God’s commandments.  Imagine!  All of God’s commandments from a single blue thread amidst the other tzizis strings.

The techeles doesn’t change.  Is it merely a blue thread that contrasts and highlights the white threads?  Or is it a direct connection to the sea, the sky, the Heavenly Throne and God’s commandments?  Only how you look at it changes!

The Meraglim too were told to go and see… to see what?  A land promised to each of our Avot, the land promised to a people born into slavery only to be redeemed by the Hand of God.  What else could they have seen but a land blessed by God Himself.  Yet, ten of the twelve saw only the chitzoniyus, only the external.  They saw much to frighten them.  Big people, strong people.  Giants!  They saw fortified cities.  Those ten saw the giants and the danger but remained blind to the holiness all around them.

Has anything changed, even today?   How many refuse to see all that is holy on every street corner of Eretz Yisrael?  How many speak only of a secular state, of a non-religious government, of a depraved, Western culture?  Of an eretz ocheles yoshveia – of bureaucracy, of the hassles of integrating into this tough, sabra society?

They see with the eyes of the ten spies!

Jews, where are your tzizisUreiesem es haAretz!

See!  Do not merely look!