Photo Credit: Wiki

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

I took two of my children to the St Louis Museum of Art to teach them how to pray. My six-year old daughter wandered off and I found her tearing while standing before a Rodin. “I feel so sad when I look at that,” she said. The sculpture was named, “Despair.” I knew that she would be skilled at prayer. My four-year old son couldn’t stop staring at Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man.’ “How can he make black so colorful?” At that moment, an elderly man walked right up to the painting and commented to his wife, “This frame must be worth a fortune!”

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My burst of fatherly pride in my son who saw so much more than the man was shattered by my son’s, “I didn’t even look at the frame. He saw what I missed.”

I wanted my children to see beyond the surface of the words of formal prayer, and, I thank God, they still do, but my son added a dimension to seeing. I saw an old man without perspective, a man who would look at a frame rather than a Rembrandt. I, who took my children to a museum to develop prayer skills, failed to see the man’s perspective because it was so different from mine. My son listened to the man, and considered his view, and then added to his own vision. I wondered whether my little boy had better prayer skills than mine. He was able to see through the eyes of others. I realized that I was attempting to open my children’ minds to what I was able to see. A four-year old looked and wanted to see more.

People saw Pinchas the way I saw the old man. The Children of Israel saw his violence when, “He turned back My wrath, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them.” God saw more, “Behold! I give him My covenant of peace.” The people saw a dangerously violent Pinchas; God saw a peaceful person. He did not want them to define Pinchas by only one action. God wanted the people to learn to see beyond the immediate.

God repeats the lesson to Moses: “Go up to this mountain and see the Land that I have given the Children of Israel. You shall see it and you shall be gathered unto your people as Aaron your brother was gathered in (Numbers 27:13-13).” God was not teasing Moses with a view of the land Moses would not enter; He was testing Moses’ reaction!

“May God, Lord of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a leader over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them (Verses 15-17).” Moses responded to his view of the Land by requesting that God appoint a leader who will, “Go out before them,” and expand their vision, and, “Come in before them,” and include their vision in his. Moses saw and wanted the people to learn how to see for themselves.

Thus, in this week’s selection from the prophets, the first of the Three Haftarot of Affliction, God, while proving, “I have placed My words in your mouth (Jeremiah 1:9) twice asks Jeremiah, “What do you see, Jeremiah (Verses 11 & 13)?” If God had placed His words in Jeremiah’s mouth, whose words responded to the question, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah would only discover God’s words in his mouth when he learned how to see, and to trust his vision.

I recall numerous stories of my grandfather zt”l insisting on protecting students whom the rest of the administration wanted to expel. The other rabbis saw what was right before them. My grandfather, who was practically blind, used his vision to look far into the future and see who these young men could become. The other rabbis saw trouble. My grandfather saw potential. The other rabbis saw problems. My grandfather saw hope.

The little boy who saw more; the people who learned to see Pinchas, as a man of peace, not violence; Moses, who saw the Land through the eyes of the people from afar in time and space; Jeremiah, who learned to trust his vision; and, my grandfather who was physically blind, but a spiritual visionary, all were able to see beyond tragedy and suffering and see a world redeemed, a healed world, a world of potential.

Perhaps that is the real meaning of the question we are told we will be asked by the Heavenly Tribunal, “Tzipita l’Yeshua?” Although usually translated as, “Did you await the Messiah,” we can read it as, “Did you develop the vision of a world redeemed?” That, is the challenge of these Three Weeks leading to Tisha b’Av, the day of tragedy: Have we learned to see the hope beyond the suffering, have we developed the vision of a healed world, so that we too can find the right words in our mouths to share our vision with others, and to pay honor what others see as well?

Shabbat Shalom

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