Parshas Lech Lecha - How Do You See Eretz Yisrael?
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:
"And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." (Bereishis 12:1)
Avraham Avinu is told to leave his land, his birthplace and his father's house. The destination? Unknown. God does not tell Avraham where he is going. Only that it will be a land that God will show him.
What is the significance of the fact that Eretz Yisrael is referred to as the land that God will show Avraham?
The Sforno explains:
אל הארץ אשר אראך אל המקום מהארץ אשר אראך אותה במראות אלהים לפיכך עבר בארץ ולא נטע אהלו עד המקום שנראה אליו שם האל יתברך שאמרו ויעבור אברם בארץ עד מקו' שכם וירא אליו ה' ויאמר לזרעך נתתי את הארץ הזאת:
To the specific area within the country which I will show you in a heavenly vision. This is why Avram kept moving further into the land without pitching his tent to settle down until he received the appropriate sign from G’d. This occurred when he reached Shechem, where we are told that G’d appeared to him.
Avraham is told to travel. How will he knows when he has arrived? He will receive a "Heavenly vision."
וַיֵּרָ֤א יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לְזַ֨רְעֲךָ֔ אֶתֵּ֖ן אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֑את וַיִּ֤בֶן שָׁם֙ מִזְבֵּ֔חַ לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה הַנִּרְאֶ֥ה אֵלָֽיו:
"And the Lord appeared to Abram, and He said, "To your seed I will give this land," and there he built an altar to the Lord, Who had appeared to him." (Bereishis 12:7)
When God appeared to Avraham he knew he had arrived. This is why he now chose to build a mizbeach. He was giving thanks to Hashem who had gifted him and his descendants with the Land of Israel.
Why does God choose to show Avraham the land in this fashion? It seems that there is some intrinsic connection between Eretz Yisrael and sight. What is the inner meaning of this connection?
(fill in title)
וְהָֽרָאָה֙ וְאֶת־הָ֣אַיָּ֔ה וְהַדַּיָּ֖ה לְמִינָֽהּ
"and the white vulture, and the black vulture, and the kite after its species." (Devarim 14:13)
The Gemara in Chullin (63b) explains in truth these are three names for the same bird. Why give three names for the same bird? The Torah was concerned that someone might know this bird by one of its other names and assume it was kosher. Why is the bird called the Ra'ah? The Gemara explains that this particular bird has exceptional vision. Even if it was flying in Bavel it was able to see the carcasses all the way in Israel.
So if this bird can see so well why isn't it kosher?
The Power of Vision
The Maharal explains that of all of the five senses, sight is the least objective. When we see something we become convinced that we know what we have seen but in truth sight is often subjective. An event occurred but the way we translate that event it is interpreted through the lens of our own ego. In fact the word reiya has two different meanings. It means both sight and understanding. This is because what we see and what we understand are intertwined. The way that we "understand" the world internally is often how we "see" the world externally. We are convinced that we know the truth of what actually occurred but for the most part it is only our interpretation of what occured.
The question really is, what is the lens through which we see the world? Two people can watch the same exact event and walk away with two totally different experiences. A pessimist will see events in a negative fashion. An optimist may see the same exact event but walk away with a totally different version of reality.
What is the impact of how we see the world? We often think that the impact is only on ourselves. If we see the world through the lens of negativity we have to live in a world of negativity. In truth, seeing the world through the lens of negativity impacts those that we see as well. This is what we call ayin hara. At this point some of you may be quick to stop reading. Perhaps you don't believe in the concept of ayin hara. Let us examine what Chazal says on this issue.
Consider the words of the Rabbeinu Bechaya:
ואל תתמה בזה אם כח עין הרע גדול כל כך שהוא שולט אפילו בדברים שהנס מתפשט בהם, שכן מצינו בלידת השבטים שבשביל דבור אחד של לאה שאמרה אודה את ה' שנתנה הודאה בבן רביעי על שהכירה שנטלה יותר מחלקה שלט בה עין הרע, הוא שכתוב מיד ותעמוד מלדת. ועוד מצינו בבני יוסף שהיה הנס מתפשט בהם בדברים מברכת אביהם שאמר (בראשית מ״ט:כ״ב) בן פורת יוסף בן פורת עלי עין. כשאמרו ליהושע (יהושע י״ז:י״ד-ט״ו) ואני עם רב אשר עד כה ברכני ה' השיב להם יהושע אם עם רב אתה עלה לך היערה, ודרשו רז"ל החביאו עצמכם ביערות כדי שלא ישלוט בכם עין הרע. ועוד אין לך מעשה נס גדול כענין מתן תורה ושם מצינו ששלטה בו עין הרע, וכן אמרו רז"ל למה נשתברו לוחות ראשונות לפי שנתנו בפומבי שלטה בהן עין הרע ונשתברו, לוחות שניות שנתנו בצנעה שנאמר (שמות ל״ד:ג׳) ואיש לא יעלה עמך וגם איש אל ירא בכל ההר לא שלטה בהן עין הרע ולא נשתברו. ומזה עשה יעקב ענין המקלות שהוא מעשה טבע כדי להעלים מעשה הנס שלא יבינו לבן ואנשיו ושלא ישלוט בו עין הרע
Do not question how it is possible that the power of the evil eye is so great that it can even interfere with miracles! We find that the birth of Yaakov’s children was influenced by the power of the evil eye. Leah had made a single comment in that she thanked the Lord for allowing her to have born a fourth son, i.e. more than the three sons out of twelve which she could expect to bear by right, and as a result of this comment she became subject to the power of the evil eye. Immediately after she had made this comment we read ותעמוד מלדת “she stopped giving birth.” Furthermore, we find in connection with the tribe of Joseph who had been favoured by miraculous increases in numbers due to the special blessing of their patriarch Yaakov who had said בן פורת יוסף בן פורת עלי עין, that Joseph’s descendants would prove especially fruitful. When these people told Joshua (Joshua 17,14) that G’d had made them inordinately numerous and the land allocated to them was inadequate for their needs, Joshua answered them that they would be best of to move to a wooded region . Our sages in Sotah 36 comment on this that Joshua (who was also of the tribe of Ephrayim) meant that they should hide in the forests so as not to arouse other people’s evil eye, envy. Furthermore, you will agree that there never was a greater miracle than occurred at the revelation at Mount Sinai, and we find that even on that occasion the evil eye was very much in evidence. In searching for a reason why the first set of Tablets were smashed, Tanchuma Ki Tissa 31 claims that it was because they were given to the Jewish people in public, [I am sure this refers to the text, and not the actual Tablets as the former was announced at the revelation. Ed.] an area where the evil eye is rampant. This is why the second set of Tablets was given in secret, i.e. Moses was told that (Exodus 34,3) ואיש לא יעלה עמך וגם איש אל ירא בכל ההר, “no one is to go up the mountain with you, nor is anyone to be seen at the mountain.” When the second Tablets were given the evil eye as not present, hence they were not smashed [even though the Jews repeatedly served idols after they had lived in the land of Israel for a while. Ed.] Yaakov therefore had good reason not to arouse the envy of Lavan and his sons.
There are many examples of ayin hara in the Torah and throughout the writings of Chazal that are even brought down in halacha. Here are a couple of examples:
וַתֹּ֨אמֶר שָׂרַ֣י אֶל־אַבְרָם֘ חֲמָסִ֣י עָלֶ֒יךָ֒ אָֽנֹכִ֗י נָתַ֤תִּי שִׁפְחָתִי֙ בְּחֵיקֶ֔ךָ וַתֵּ֨רֶא֙ כִּ֣י הָרָ֔תָה וָֽאֵקַ֖ל בְּעֵינֶ֑יהָ יִשְׁפֹּ֥ט יְהֹוָ֖ה בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֶֽיֹךָ
"And Sarai said to Abram, "May my injustice be upon you! I gave my handmaid into your bosom, and she saw that she had become pregnant, and I became unimportant in her eyes. May the Lord judge between me and you!" (Bereishis 16:5)
אנכי נתתי שפחתי וגו' ביני וביניך: כל ביני ובינך שבמקרא חסר, וזה מלא, קרי ביה וביניך שהכניסה עין הרע בעיבורה של הגר והפילה עוברה, הוא שהמלאך אומר להגר הנך הרה, והלא כבר הרתה והוא מבשר לה שתהר, אלא מלמד שהפילה הריון הראשון:
I gave my handmaid, etc. between me and you: Every בֶּינֶיךָ in Scripture is spelled defectively (without the second yud), but this one is spelled plene. It may thus also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine), for she cast an evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus. That is why the angel said to Hagar, “Behold, you will conceive.” But was she not already pregnant? Yet he announces to her that she will conceive? But this teaches that she miscarried her first pregnancy. — [from Gen. Rabbah 45:5]
וַיָּבֹ֨אוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לִשְׁבֹּ֖ר בְּת֣וֹךְ הַבָּאִ֑ים כִּֽי־הָיָ֥ה הָֽרָעָ֖ב בְּאֶ֥רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן
"So the sons of Israel came to purchase among those who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan." (Bereishis 42:5)
בתוך הבאים: מטמינין עצמן שלא יכירום, לפי שצוה להם אביהם שלא יתראו כולם בפתח אחד אלא שיכנס כל אחד בפתחו, כדי שלא תשלוט בהם עין הרע שכולם נאים וכולם גבורים:
among those who came: They hid themselves [in the crowd] so that they would not be recognized, because their father had commanded them not to all appear at one entrance, but for each to enter through his own entrance, so that the evil eye would have no power over them, for they were all handsome and strong [and thus would be envied]. — [from Tan. Mikeitz 8, Gen. Rabbah 91:6]
The Gemara in Baba Basra (2b) teaches that it is prohibited for a person to stand in another’s field and look at his crop while the grain is standing. Rashi explains that the grain will be damaged as a result of ayin hara.
The Gemara in Baba Metzia (30a) teaches that when one displays a garment in front of his guests it is tantamount to burning the garment. The Gemara offers two possible reasons for this - either because of ayin hara or because of possible theft. While some Rishonim (Rambam Hilchot Gezeila ViAveidah 13:11 and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 267:18) only mention the issue of theft and do not quote the issue about ayin hara, others (Rosh and Rif) bring down both reasons lihalacha. The Aruch HaShulchan (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hashavat Aveidah 267:11) says that if the people who see the garment are men of integrity then there is no need to be concerned for ayin hara. In fact the Bach says that the only reason the Rambam and the Mechaber only mention the issue of theft and neglect to mention ayin hara is because it is easier for people to understand. He maintains that the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch would also acknowledge that there is indeed a concept of ayin hara in the Torah.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 141:6) says that the custom is not to call two brothers (or father and son) up to the Torah consecutively because of the ayin hara that may come from drawing too much attention to a single family.
The Gemara in Baba Metzia (107b) says:
והסיר ה' ממך כל חולי אמר רב זו עין רב לטעמיה דרב סליק לבי קברי עבד מאי דעבד אמר תשעין ותשעה בעין רעה ואחד בדרך ארץ
“And the Lord will take away from you all sickness” (Deuteronomy 7:15). In interpreting this verse, Rav says: This verse is speaking about the evil eye. The Gemara comments: Rav conforms to his line of reasoning, as Rav went to a graveyard, and did what he did, i.e., he used an incantation to find out how those buried there died, and he said: Ninety-nine of these died by the evil eye, and only one died by entirely natural means.
In summation, it is clear from the above that the way we see others actually has an impact on them. Leah stopped giving birth. Yehoshua had people hide in the forest. Hagar miscarried. Yaakov divided up his children when entering Mitzraim. Even the Luchos were destroyed because of ayin hara. We saw multiple examples where the halacha takes the concept of ayin hara very seriously and Rav went so far as to say that 99 out of 100 died because of ayin hara. Clearly, a person who sees the world in a negative fashion not only impacts themselves but impacts others as well.
Knowing how ayin hara operates allows us to understand the Maamarei Chazal that were quoted above. Because of ayin hara Leah stopped having children. Rav was able to tell that 99 people out of 100 in the cemetery had died because of ayin hara. The way we see people matter. When things are done with tznius, they are less subject to the ayin hara of others. Because the luchos were given in an ostentatious fashion they had no lasting power.
The Children of Yosef
While there is a concept of ayin hara, its scope does seem to be somewhat limited.
The Gemara in Brachos (55b) teaches that the descendants of Yosef are not impacted by ayin hara:
פתח אידך ואמר האי מאן דעייל למתא ודחיל מעינא בישא לנקוט זקפא דידא דימיניה בידא דשמאליה וזקפא דידא דשמאליה בידא דימיניה ולימא הכי אנא פלוני בר פלוני מזרעא דיוסף קאתינא דלא שלטא ביה עינא בישא שנאמר בן פרת יוסף בן פרת עלי עין וגו׳ אל תקרי עלי עין אלא עולי עין רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר מהכא וידגו לרב בקרב הארץ מה דגים שבים מים מכסים עליהם ואין עין רעה שולטת בהם אף זרעו של יוסף אין עין רעה שולטת בהם ואי דחיל מעינא בישא דיליה ליחזי אטרפא דנחיריה דשמאליה
Another began and said: One who enters a city and fears the evil eye should hold the thumb [zekafa] of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand and recite the following: I, so-and-so son of so-and-so, come from the descendants of Joseph, over whom the evil eye has no dominion, as it is stated: “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a fountain [alei ayin]; its branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). Do not read it as alei ayin; but rather, read it as olei ayin, who rise above the eye and the evil eye has no dominion over him. Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, said: Derive it from here, from what is stated in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons: “And let them grow like fish into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:16): Just as fish in the sea are covered by water and the evil eye has no dominion over them as they cannot be seen, so too the offspring of Joseph, the evil eye has no dominion over them. And if he is concerned about his own evil eye, lest it damage others, he should look at the side of his left nostril.
Similarly, the Gemara in Brachos (20a) says:
רבי יוחנן הוה רגיל דהוה קא אזיל ויתיב אשערי דטבילה אמר כי סלקן בנות ישראל ואתיין מטבילה מסתכלן בי ונהוי להו זרעא דשפירי כוותי אמרי ליה רבנן לא קא מסתפי מר מעינא בישא אמר להו אנא מזרעא דיוסף קא אתינא דלא שלטא ביה עינא בישא דכתיב בן פורת יוסף בן פורת עלי עין ואמר רבי אבהו אל תקרי עלי עין אלא עולי עין
Rabbi Yoḥanan was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the women’s immersion sites. Rabbi Yoḥanan, who was known for his extraordinary good looks, explained this and said: When the daughters of Israel emerge from their immersion, they will look at me, and will have children as beautiful as I. The Sages asked him: Master, do you not fear the evil eye? He said to them: I descend from the seed of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no dominion, as it is written: “Joseph is a bountiful vine, a bountiful vine on a spring [alei ayin]” (Genesis 49:22). “Ayin” can mean both “spring” and “eye.” And Rabbi Abbahu said a homiletic interpretation: Do not read it alei ayin, rather olei ayin, above the eye; they transcend the influence of the evil eye.
The Gemara in Pesachim (110b) discusses the danger of doing things in pairs (which somehow exposes a person to demons) and concludes that “one who is not troubled by it, will not be troubled by it."
How are we to understand this dichotomy? On the one hand we have seen many sources that indicate that ayin hara can negatively harm a person, even causing death. On the other hand, if ayin hara does have an impact how can it be that Yosef and his descendants are not impacted by ayin hara? How can it be that if you simply don't believe in it, it has no impact on you? In other words, we really need to understand how exactly ayin hara works.
Reality Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Quantum physics has now shown us that reality doesn't exist until we measure it. For example, if you have an object that can either act like a particle or a wave, at what point does that object "decide" to be a particle or a wave? We would assume that the object is either wave-like or particle-like by its very nature, and our measurements will have nothing to do with the answer. In truth, at least on a quantum level, the object is neither a wave nor a particle until we measure it. Only then does it choose how to behave,.
With this scientific discovery in mind, the notion of ayin hara is more readily understandable.
The Mishna in Avos (2:11) says:
רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר, עַיִן הָרָע, וְיֵצֶר הָרָע, וְשִׂנְאַת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, מוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם:
Rabbi Joshua said: an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred for humankind put a person out of the world.
No different than quantum physics, how we see someone has an actual impact on them!
This is in line with the Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 2:11) who explains the concept of Ayin Hara as follows
רבי יהושע אומר עין הרע. פי' מי שאינו שמח בחלקו ועויין את חברו העשיר ממנו מתי יעשר עושר גדול כמוהו והוא גורם רע לעצמו. ולחברו כאשר אמרו חכמי הטבע. מכל אשר לרעהו אויר עולה מן המחשבה ההוא ושורף את הדברים שעויין בהם בעיניו הרע. גם בקרבו ישרף אחר שמתאוה לדברים שאין יכולת מצוי בידו לעשות המחשבה ההיא מקלקלת גופו כי יתקצר רוחו ומציאתו מן העולם וזהו עין הרע שאמר ר' יהושע וראי' לזה הפי' על שאמר בכאן עין הרע בלשון זכר שזהו העויין ברע. ולמעלה אמר עין רעה שפי' על מדת הכילות שלא כדברי מקצת המפרשים ויצר הרע ושנאת הבריות כמשמען מוציאין את האדם מן העולם
Rabbi Yehoshua says: The evil eye: Its explanation is one who is not happy with his lot and places his eye on his fellow who is wealthier than he, [thinking] when will I be as wealthy as the great wealth of this man? And this causes evil to himself and to his fellow. [It is] like the wise men of science say about everything that is his neighbors: vapor comes up from that thought and burns the things that he put his eye towards with an evil eye. He also burns [himself] inside. Since he desires things, the thought of which he does not have the ability in his hand to materialize his, he destroys his body - as he shortens his spirit and removes it from the world. And this is the evil eye about which Rabbi Yehoshua spoke. And the proof of this explanation is that here he said, evil eye (ra) in the masculine - which is the one that put his eye [to something] for evil. And above (Avot 2:9), it said evil eye in the feminine (raah), the explanation of which is about the trait of stinginess. [And it is] not like the words of some of the commentators. And the evil inclination, and hatred of the creations - like their simple meaning - remove a person from the world.
The way we see things has an impact on ourselves and on the world around us.
When someone sees what an object has with an ayin hara, that inappropriate desire can consume and destroy both the viewer and the object which is being desired. Just as our measurements of an object on a quantum level determines if the object will behave like a particle or a wave, so too when a person views another person with an ayin hara it has a demonstrable negative impact on that person.
For Avraham to become God’s representative in this world, to be the father of all nations as he was later to be called, he needed to learn the art of vision. He needed to see the world as God did. Where others saw darkness, Avraham so light. Where others saw chaos, Avraham saw purpose. Where others saw evil, Avraham saw through to the Godliness that lies within. Avraham saw those things because that is how God saw the world.
This is why the Mishna in Avos (5:19) says that the defining characteristic of Avraham Avinu was his ayin tova.
כָּל מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים אֲחֵרִים, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. עַיִן טוֹבָה, וְרוּחַ נְמוּכָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ שְׁפָלָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. עַיִן רָעָה, וְרוּחַ גְּבוֹהָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. מַה בֵּין תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ לְתַלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, אוֹכְלִין בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְנוֹחֲלִין בָּעוֹלָם הַבָּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ח) לְהַנְחִיל אֹהֲבַי יֵשׁ, וְאֹצְרֹתֵיהֶם אֲמַלֵּא. אֲבָל תַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע יוֹרְשִׁין גֵּיהִנֹּם וְיוֹרְדִין לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים נה) וְאַתָּה אֱלֹהִים תּוֹרִידֵם לִבְאֵר שַׁחַת, אַנְשֵׁי דָמִים וּמִרְמָה לֹא יֶחֱצוּ יְמֵיהֶם, וַאֲנִי אֶבְטַח בָּךְ:
Whoever possesses these three things, he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father; and [whoever possesses] three other things, he is of the disciples of Balaam, the wicked. A good eye, a humble spirit and a moderate appetite he is of the disciples of Abraham, our father. An evil eye, a haughty spirit and a limitless appetite he is of the disciples of Balaam, the wicked. What is the difference between the disciples of Abraham, our father, and the disciples of Balaam, the wicked? The disciples of Abraham, our father, enjoy this world, and inherit the world to come, as it is said: “I will endow those who love me with substance, I will fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21). But the disciples of Balaam, the wicked, inherit gehinnom, and descend into the nethermost pit, as it is said: “For you, O God, will bring them down to the nethermost pit those murderous and treacherous men; they shall not live out half their days; but I trust in You” (Psalms 55:24).
The students of Avraham Avinu do not simply see this world on a surface level. They see the potential for the World to Come. Their vision is like that of their Rebbe. It sees deeper, all the way to the essence.
This is the difference between Avraham Avinu and his nephew Lot in our Parsha. When Avraham Avinu told Lot that it was time for them to separate, he offered Lot to choose which part of the land he wanted.
וַיִּשָּׂא־ל֣וֹט אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־כָּל־כִּכַּ֣ר הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן כִּ֥י כֻלָּ֖הּ מַשְׁקֶ֑ה לִפְנֵ֣י | שַׁחֵ֣ת יְהֹוָ֗ה אֶת־סְדֹם֙ וְאֶת־עֲמֹרָ֔ה כְּגַן־יְהֹוָה֙ כְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בֹּֽאֲכָ֖ה צֹֽעַר:
"And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan, that it was entirely watered; before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar." (Bereishis 13:10)
Why does the Torah mention the upcoming destruction of Sedom now as Lot chooses to live there? Why not simply say that it was a beautiful area? The middos that would ultimately lead to the destruction of Sedom were there but Lot did not see them. He was focused on the external beauty and not on the internal nature of the place. His vision was obstructed.
Perhaps this explains why when Lot did tell his family about the impending destruction of Sedom the Torah tells us that “he seemed like a comedian in the eyes of his sons-in-law.” (Bereishis 19:14). Lot had always been the same superficial person his sons in law had been. They all saw the world externally. When Lot spoke of a deeper plan and purpose, in their eyes he was a comedian. Their vision of Lot could not incorporate a person who spoke with Malachim. They couldn’t see the deeper dimension of Lot. He had never been seen that way by them before.
Similarly, when the Torah describes the death of Lot's wife it says, "And his wife looked from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." (Bereishis 19:26) Why did the Torah not simply say that Lot’s wife looked behind her? Why is it that she looked behind Lot? Perhaps we can suggest that Lot had now developed a deeper vision. Indeed after the destruction the Torah tells us, “And he looked over the face of Sodom and Gomorrah and over the entire face of the land of the plain, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the earth had risen like the smoke of a furnace.” (Bereishis 19:28) Whereas initially Lot had seen the external beauty of Sedom, through this episode he developed an inner vision. He finally saw Sedom as it always was. A desolate place, devoid of Godliness. When Lot’s wife looked behind Lot at the destruction of Sodom it means that she saw the world as Lot used to see the world. Like Sedom she only saw the external. In this fashion she was still considered a member of the community and therefore was part of their destruction. Perhaps we can suggest that she turned into a pillar of salt because she was a “salty” person. It was how she saw the world.
In contrast, Avraham Avinu had inner vision. After Lot chooses Sedom the Torah tells us, “
And the Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Please raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward. For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity. And I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted." (Bereishis 13:14-16)
Rashi explains that as long as Lot was with Avraham, Hashem’s presence had departed from Avraham, With Lot gone, Avraham’s vision was restored. Whereas Lot saw the external beauty of Sedom and chose one place, Avraham sees all four directions and the entirety of the land is given to him and descendants for eternity. Avraham receives not only the superficial land but also the divine blessings that follow those who see the world through the lens of God.
This then is the power of inner vision. While superficial vision recognizes the external beauty, it can only contain that which it can see. In this way it is limited. Avraham, with his inner vision, does not gaze upon external beauty. Indeed the Torah makes no mention of the external beauty of Eretz Yisrael when describing Avraham vision. And because he was not focused on the superficial beauty of Eretz Yisrael, he connected to its inner essence. In this way, everywhere he looked, even those places he could not see, belonged to him.
With this in mind we can understand why the Torah tells us “And He took him outside, and He said, "Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So will be your seed." (Bereishis 15:5) Why did Avraham have to go outside and look at the stars in order to be blessed with a nation that would be as vast as the stars? Surely Avraham Avinu could not count the actual stars! Again, when a person has an inner, Godly vision, he doesn’t focus on the particulars. That would be superficial. Instead Avraham Avinu gazed heavenwards looking at the more global picture. In this way he looked upon all of the stars and thus merited to have a nation that would be as vast the heavens.
Knowing the Godly nature of Avraham Avinu’s inner vision also helps us explain a troubling episode with Sarah Imeinu. The Torah tells us that as Avraham Avinu was travelling to Mitzrayim with Sarah he said to her, "Behold now I know that you are a woman of fair appearance. And it will come to pass when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife,' and they will slay me and let you live." (Bereishis 12:11-12)
Rashi quoting the Medrash explains that until now, he did not recognize her beauty because of the modesty of both of them, but now he recognized her beauty through an incident. What incident is the Rashi referring to? On their way down to Egypt, Avraham and Sarah had to cross a stream. In crossing the stream, Avraham looked down and saw Sarah's reflection in the water. Upon seeing her reflection, Avraham suddenly realized how beautiful his wife Sarah was.
Could it be that Avraham had never seen Sarah before this? Do Chazal not say that it is forbidden to marry a woman without first seeing her? Of course Avraham Avinu had seen Sarah before! But the modesty in their relationship meant that their vision was superficial in nature. Avraham had never seen Sarah before as an object to be desired. He had always looked at her. When they crossed the stream it was the first time that Avraham had ever seen a reflection of Sarah. He now saw her as the Egyptians would. Not as a person but as an object. One that the Egyptians would kill to obtain. This was the perverted sense of vision that the Egyptians had. Indeed the Torah reports “And it came to pass when Abram came to Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very pretty.” (Bereishis 12:14)
Seeing The Goodness In Others
Avraham Avinu’s inner vision not only applied to beauty but to behavior as well. When Sarah told Avraham to expel Hagar and Yitzchak from their home the Torah tells us:
וַתֹּ֨אמֶר֙ לְאַבְרָהָ֔ם גָּרֵ֛שׁ הָֽאָמָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את וְאֶת־בְּנָ֑הּ כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יִירַשׁ֙ בֶּן־הָֽאָמָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את עִם־בְּנִ֖י עִם־יִצְחָֽק: וַיֵּ֧רַע הַדָּבָ֛ר מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵ֣י אַבְרָהָ֑ם עַ֖ל אוֹדֹ֥ת בְּנֽוֹ: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֗ם אַל־יֵרַ֤ע בְּעֵינֶ֨יךָ֙ עַל־הַנַּ֣עַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ כִּ֣י בְיִצְחָ֔ק יִקָּרֵ֥א לְךָ֖ זָֽרַע:
"And Sarah said to Abraham, "Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac."But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son. And God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed." (Bereishis 21:10-12)
A literal translation of the passuk reads, “and the matter was greatly displeasing in the eyes of Avraham.” Why does the Torah specifically highlight the vision of Avraham Avinu? Why not simply say he was displeased by Sarah’s suggestion concerning Yishmael?
Because of the inner vision of Avraham Avinu he understood that while Yishmael was behaving inappropriately it did not define who he was. Expelling him would only heighten his misbehavior. This is why Sarah’s suggestion was displeasing in the “eyes” of Avraham Avinu. Avraham, who saw Yishmael as so much more than his actions, could not bare to throw his son out of his home. In fact Chazal (Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer chapter 29) tells us that even after Avraham sent Yishmael and Hagar away, Avraham Avinu continued to visit with Yishmael to ensure that he married a suitable wife. Though Yishmael’s actions were that of a Rasha, Avraham Avinu always saw in him an unrealized potential.
“And she went and sat down from afar, at about the distance of two bowshots, for she said, "Let me not see the child's death." And she sat from afar, and she raised her voice and wept… And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the pouch with water and gave the lad to drink.” (Bereishis 21:16,19) Hagar is watching her son die of thirst. She could not bear to see Yishmael pass away. But God opens her eyes and she sees a well of water. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 53:14) quotes Rav Binyamin who says, “all people are considered to be blind until Hashem illuminates their eyes.” On the surface it appeared to Hagar that Yishmael would die. She was blinded by a superficial vision of the world. She could not bear to see him die. When God opened her eyes she saw the salvation. It was in front of her the entire time, she just could not see it. In truth we are all like this. The salvation is there but our eyes have been blinded.
Similarly, Avraham Avinu continues to be concerned for Lot even after their parting of ways. Despite the fact that Lot was involved in theft and idolatry, Avraham waged war against the greatest kings of time in order to rescue Lot from captivity. And lest you think that Avraham only did these things because Yishmael and Lot were family, remember that Avraham Avinu beseeches Hashem to save Sodom, the greatest reshaim of the time, arguing that if there would even be one Tzaddik there, perhaps that Tzaddik would be able to help them return to God. The inner vision of Avraham Avinu saw the Godliness inside of every person, regardless of how distant from God they appeared to be.
A Heritage Of Vision
The vision of Avraham Avinu is the legacy of all Jews.
בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵֽרָחֹֽק: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶל־נְעָרָ֗יו שְׁבֽוּ־לָכֶ֥ם פֹּה֙ עִם־הַֽחֲמ֔וֹר וַֽאֲנִ֣י וְהַנַּ֔עַר נֵֽלְכָ֖ה עַד־כֹּ֑ה וְנִשְׁתַּֽחֲוֶ֖ה וְנָשׁ֥וּבָה אֲלֵיכֶֽם"
"On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will prostrate ourselves and return to you." (Bereishis 22:4,5)
The Gemara in Yevamos (62a) explains that by associating the two young men with the donkey, he was alluding that they were “Am hadomeh lachamor” — “Members of a nation who are similar to donkeys.” The Medrash (Bereishit Rabbah 56:12) fills in some of the detaisl of that conversation. Avraham saw a cloud hovering over the mountain and recognized it as signifying Hashem’s presence. He turned to Yitzchak and asked, “Yitzchak, my son, do you see what I see?” “Yes,” Yitzchak said. Avraham then understood that Yitzchak had the degree of spiritual insight that made him worthy to be an offering. He then turned to the two attendants and asked, “Do you see what I see?” They replied that they could not see anything. Noting this, Avraham put them in the same category as his donkey and said in effect, “The donkey sees nothing; and you see nothing, therefore, stay here with the donkey.”
Those that only see superficial physical nature of the world are grouped together with the donkeys. The word chamor, donkey, shares the same shoresh as chumrios, physicality. Avraham and Yitzchak have developed the vision to see the presence of God in this world. It is what makes Yitzchak a worthy korban.
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 56:8) tells us that as Avraham Avinu was about to shecht Yitzchak, the tears of his eyes fell into the eyes of Yitzchak and Avraham was happy to do the will of Hashem. Perhaps we can explain that insofar as Avraham saw that this was the will of God he was happy to perform Hashem’s will. The tears that poured out of the eyes of Avraham went into the eyes of Yitzchak endowing Yitzchak with the inner vision that would become the hallmark of the Jewish Nation.
"When Yitzchak grew old, his eyes weakened from seeing" (Bereishis 27:1) The passuk makes it clear that Yitzchak had sight his entire life and only became blind when he was old. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:9) however indicates that Yitzchak became blind at the akeida. The Medrash offers two possibilities for how Yitzchak became blinded. The first explanation is that while bound on the altar, Yitzchak looked up and saw into the heavens, where the malachim were crying. The tears entered his eyes, seared them, causing his blindness. Alternatively, Yitzchak saw the keisei hakavod and was blinded.
Seeing that the Torah itself tells us that Yitzchak only became blind when he got older, we can assume that the Medrash is referring to a spiritual blindness. Or in other words, Yitzchak, post akeida, had attained such amazing spiritual heights that he no longer saw the physical world. Only its inner nature. In this way Yitzchak had been bound together (akeida means to bind) with Avraham Avinu.
The story ends with vision playing a critical role.
וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ וְהִנֵּה־אַ֔יִל אַחַ֕ר נֶֽאֱחַ֥ז בַּסְּבַ֖ךְ בְּקַרְנָ֑יו וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ אַבְרָהָם֙ וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־הָאַ֔יִל וַיַּֽעֲלֵ֥הוּ לְעֹלָ֖ה תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ: וַיִּקְרָ֧א אַבְרָהָ֛ם שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא יְהֹוָ֣ה | יִרְאֶ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵֽאָמֵ֣ר הַיּ֔וֹם בְּהַ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה יֵֽרָאֶֽה:
"And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and he saw, and lo! there was a ram, [and] after [that] it was caught in a tree by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham named that place, The Lord will see, as it is said to this day: On the mountain, the Lord will be seen." (Bereishis 22:13,14)
Avraham is told to stand down and not to sacrifice Yitzchak. The Torah could have ended the story there. Yitzchak would have been spared and all was well. Instead the story continues as Avraham lifts up his eyes and sees a ram that can be offered in Yitzchak’s stead. He names the mountain “God will see.” The point of the story can be seen in its culmination. The akeida binds the vision of Avraham and the vision of Yitzchak. Our job is not merely to follow God’s will but to see his will in our world. As Avraham is told that sacrificing Yitzchak is not necessary he sees through to the essence, and sacrifices a ram instead. The Godly inner vision that Avraham and Yitzchak posses is now part of the Jewish DNA. In this place, we would one day build the Beis HaMikdash, where God’s presence was seen by all.
Eretz Yisrael - The Eyes of God
Eretz Yisrael can be a complicated place. There is a tremendous amount of kedusha and there are some things that have less kedusha than we would hope. One can have two outlooks when it comes to our homeland. There are those that only see the cracks and those that see the light.
Earlier we quoted the Gemara that said that the Raah was a bird who could see all the way from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael. Why then would such an amazing bird not be kosher? While it is true that the Raah has exceptional sight, it focuses on the carcasses of Eretz Yisrael. Imagine being able to see such a long way and only seeing the negative. Of course, such an animal cannot be ingested by a nation that prides itself on its heritage of inner vision.
Eretz Yisrael “is a Land that the Lord your God seeks out; the eyes of the Lord your God, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:12) God’s vision is set upon Eretz Yisrael. Avraham Avinu was not merely being sent to a land but to a place where he would develop a consciousness of God. He would learn to see the world as God sees the world. Yitzchak who developed that inner vision at the Akeida was subsequently not allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu implores God “Let me cross over and let me see the good Land.” Hashem refused to allow Moshe into the land but allows him to see it. “Ascend to the top of the summit... and see it with your eyes...” What value could there be in Moshe Rabbeinu merely looking at Eretz Yisrael? Moshe did not merely want to look at the beauty of the land, he wanted to see it the way Avraham did. The way Yitzchak did. The way God did. It was a part of his Avodas Hashem. And while God could not allow him to enter, he did allow him to acquire that dimension of inner vision.
Three times a day in Shemoneh Esrei we beseech God, “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy. We are not just asking for redemption. We are asking to have our vision restored so that we may be worthy of redemption. As Rav Binyamin said in the Medrash, until Hashem illuminates our eyes we are blind to the salvation that lies in front of us. May we be zocheh to see the redemtpion speedily in our days.