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Re'eh(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

If Dogs Could Talk

Would you rather be blind or deaf? God forbid it should ever happen, but let's say you had to make a choice between having your sense of sight be removed or your sense of hearing. Which of the two would you rather have? An idea from this week's Parsha weighs in on this question.

The very first verse (Devarim 11:26) states: "SEE, I have placed before you today, blessings and curses." Did God place anything tangible and visible before them? No, God was describing intellectual concepts of blessings and curses. So what did He mean when He said, "See"?

Obviously, the word "see" is used here to refer to a comprehension. We use "see" in reference to an understanding of something as in, "Do you see what I'm telling you?" because sight is our most reliable and strongest sense. (See Radak in Zecharyah 1:9.)

In order to explain this idea, let's take a dog and his sense of smell as an example. Since a dog's most reliable and strongest sense is that of smell, if he could speak and wanted to convey his grasp of an idea, he would say, "I smell it! Now I understand what you mean."

If sight is our strongest sense and is therefore the reason why our Parsha begins with that word, we are led to some questions. First, there are times the Torah uses the word "hear" to refer to understanding. For example, "Hear, Israel, God, Our Lord, God is One." Why wouldn't the Torah always use the word "see" in allusion to internalizing a comprehension of something if it is our most reliable sense?

In addition, if sight is our strongest sense, one should be more seriously liable for blinding someone than for deafening a person. Yet, the Talmud Baba Kama 85b, rules that if you deafen someone you must pay much more than if you blinded him. The opposite should be the case!

In order to answer both of these questions, we must introduce another factor into the equation beyond the issue of strongest and most reliable sense. That issue is communication with others.

Helen Keller once said, "If you would ask me: if I could have one of my senses back, either sight or hearing, which would I choose? I would choose hearing. Being blind cuts you off from the world but being deaf cuts you off from relating and communicating with people. I choose people over the world."

Hearing is more valuable when it comes to paying damages because losing the ability to relate and share with others is a more serious deprivation. Sight may be our strongest sense but human relationships and communication is more vital to human existence.

The Torah wishes to convey different and specific messages when it chooses to use either "see" or "hear" to mean an understanding of something. When the Torah uses the word "shema," "hear," the indication is that we are to make a commitment which involves our intellect.

"Re'eh," - to see - means we are to make a commitment that involves our emotions. To "hear" requires a greater and deeper understanding, and to "see" requires a greater reaction to an understanding that is already present.

"Hearing" requires a greater and deeper understanding because when we are able to hear someone we are able to truly communicate well with them. (As significant as sign language is for the hearing impaired, it can't fully replace the highest and deepest levels of communication between people that is experienced through hearing.) "Sight" is used to garner our emotions to a great reaction for an understanding that we already have because sight is our strongest and most reliable sense. Seeing really is believing and I can commit to something much more easily when I see it rather than if I only hear it.

This explains a most fascinating difference in phraseology between the Zohar and the Talmud. Very often, when the Talmud presents new information and facts, the introductory phrase, "Come and hear," in Aramaic "Ta Shema," is used. When the Zohar presents new information, the introductory phrase, "Come and see," "Yuh chazi," is utilized. Why the difference?

According to what we have discussed, it becomes clear. Talmud includes all of the revealed, rational Torah, which is known as "nigleh," revealed. This section of Torah entails great and profound logical thought, and understanding of the intellect. This is why "hearing" is most necessary since "hearing" achieves clear communication on a rational plain.

Zohar is the chief work of Jewish mysticism and goes beyond the realm of rationale and logic to the world of the supernatural and the hidden. It is "nistar," the concealed Torah. "Seeing" is the sense that can rouse our emotions to a great reaction and the Zohar's main function is to strengthen our passions and emotions for our soul and spirit. This is why Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (circa 1940, known as the Chazon Ish) would say that when learning Zohar one experiences the sweetness of our Father in Heaven.

In the first verse in Parshat Re'eh, "see" is most appropriate based on the subject matter. God is describing a ceremony of oaths for the observance of the Torah that involve blessings and curses. This ceremony wouldn't take place until much later, after the Jews would cross the Jordan River into Israel. Why then does God say, "See, I have placed before you TODAY, blessings and curses"? The blessings and curses were not being placed before them right now, so why say "today"?

There IS something that is taking place today. God is transmitting the knowledge and awareness that there will be a ceremony of blessings and curses. This event requires a tremendous amount of preparation and the Jewish people need to be made aware of this way in advance - "today." "Today" is meant for them to internalize and make a commitment that involves their emotions to prepare for the awesome event of the blessings and curses. It is not something to be dealt with in the distant future. It is to be reckoned with and prepared for now - today.

See what I'm saying?

July 27, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 8

(7) Emil Friedman, August 22, 2014 12:12 AM

It depends on the people and subject matter involved.

Some people communicate best through the spoken word. Others, like me, comprehend what we read better than what we hear, especially if it's something complex, technical, mathematical, or rational.

(6) Karen Staller, March 12, 2011 8:15 PM

Don't speak about that which you don't know, Part II

"This is why "hearing" is most necessary since "hearing" achieves clear communication on a rational plain"? Again, absolutely NOT (I'll ignore the fact that "plane" is misspelled.) You can't seriously mean that deaf people can't communicate clearly and rationally. I would MUCH rather be deaf than blind. There is SO much to see in the world, I can't imagine being cut off from it. Just thinking about our services last night, where we celebrated our Chazzan's 25th anniversary with our congregation. They lifted her in a chair on the bimah while singing Hava Nagilah, accompanied by a balalaika, since she's Russian. We were dancing and singing in the aisles . . . I can't imagine not seeing that. There's NOTHING a deaf person can't do. Being blind, one of the hardest thing I can think of is not being able to get in the car and go somewhere any time I want. I realize there's technology to adapt for reading my mail and going on the computer, but there's nothing to compensate for not being able to drive myself somewhere.

Amanda J Puryer, August 24, 2011 3:17 AM

Both senses have equal importance!!

As a blind person I can appreciate the blessings of hearing. You listen more intently, and aware of things around you from a different perspective. You can directionalize where a sound is coming from, hear the sounds of all the god has created in more intimate terms, but you cannot grasp the full variety or the awesomeness of God's creation. You don't see the myriad of colours and shapes. The small signs or gestures on another's face, or the beauty of some of God's creations. The same applies to spiritual concepts. This scripture relates to living in a time of blessing or curse. Folloing God and what He said, or doing your own thing and living with the consequences of it. God does not, nor has He required the intellect, that is usually what gets us in trouble. He wants us to recognise His voice and be obedient to Him. Abraham recognized Gods voice, and was obedient and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Moses recognized His voice and in obedience he went back into Egypt to bring out the children of Israel. They had no Torah to go by, after all, they were the ones who wrote it. Why do we revere these men and yet not follow their examples? We teach our children by our example, and we expect them to learn, so when will we take our own Spiritual medicine and follow the EXAMPLES of the great men of old! The scriptures were written to give us the knowledge, but the men and women of the scriptures are our example!

(5) Anonymous, March 12, 2011 8:14 PM

Don't speak about that which you do not know

"As significant as sign language is for the hearing impaired, it can't fully replace the highest and deepest levels of communication between people that is experienced through hearing"? Absolutely NOT. Sign language is JUST AS deep as spoken language and sometimes even more so. There are times when I want to tell my husband something and can't put it into words, but if he understood sign language, I could tell him exactly what I want to say (I'm fluent and a certified interpreter). Before I started learning sign language in my late teens, I thought deaf people only talked about being deaf. They can't hear, so what else could they talk about??? Boy, was I wrong. Deaf people talk about the latest movies, the stock market, what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, what their child's punishment should be for their latest transgression, which kitchen set to buy, what they think of the war in Afghanistan and which synagogue to join.

(4) ruth housman, August 9, 2009 12:41 PM


There are different ways of seeing. Perhaps hearing is a way of seeing, but being deaf does not necessarily mean being deaf to that inner voice, which impels us all, and I say it's the voice of love. I wondered how Helen Keller managed, and yet, she communicated, being both deaf and without sight, and she communicated her soul, more than most, in her most eloquent and sensitive words about the universe. So I am saying, when we are removed from sight or from hearing or from both, there is something inside that does work for us, and God works miracles in diverse ways, so that nobody, without hearing does not "hear" and nobody without sight, does not "see". In fact, I would say, deeply, that all senses are related and to lose one, is not necessarily what one thinks. I am so grateful for both but I know people and have worked with people who have a different way of seeing and hearing, and I would say, they do communicate. I too have been immersed deeply in that book of Splendor. This is the time of the blooming here in New England of Rose of Sharon, and I think, the messages everywhere, that we all get, are profound and even, Biblical, because everything has a one ness, a beautiful one ness, and so too man, in depriving man of a sense, there is a sense in which man is also gifted. We learn from each other and right now it's surely about "the music".

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