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Seeing and Hearing: Two Modes of Relating


In Parshat Toldot we meet Yitzchak Aveinu as an elderly man, poor of sight. This blindness allows for Rivka to plot with Yaacov to insert himself at the proper time in order to receive the bracha from his father that was intended for Esav. My concern in this Dvar Torah, is not with the dynamics surrounding the giving of the Bracha but with the blindness of Yitzchak, its causes and ramifications for the character of Yitzchak. Rav Re’eim HaCohen, of Yeshivat Otniel, wrote a fascinating essay contrasting the character of Yitzchak and Avraham as a function of two modes we use to know the world around us, seeing and hearing. Rav Re’eim teaches that Avraham was the man of sight whereas Yitzchak was the man of hearing. Rav Raim details his thesis fully in his essay that appears in the volume, Kol Demama.  Here, we can only outline the main idea.

Avraham moves through the world with power and confidence. He organizes a campaign to rescue his nephew Lot. He travels from Ur Kasdim to Eretz Yisrael, he preaches to all the truth of Judaism as he knows it, converting souls throughout his travels. This confidence comes from a clear perception of G-d which permeated Avraham’s understanding from a young age according to the Midrash. Avraham’s coming to know G-d was a function of his sight. He could see that the world, likened to a Manor in the Midrash, clearly operated according to some overarching system, such that there must be a Master to the Mansion. He is told by G-d to leave his home and go “to the land that I will show you.” The altars that Avraham built were testaments to the truth of a G-d “who appeared to him.”

Such is the nature of sight. It allows one to perceive one’s surroundings clearly, to discriminate and make fine distinctions. It takes in the superficial image and the seemingly objective reality out there.

Yitchak was different. His eyes were dim. He is known as Pachad Yitchak and his mode was to listen. Without the confidence of sight, one fears the surroundings and one fears G-d. “Listen” penetrates beneath the surface. Listening requires more interpretation is more subjective and conveys an inner truth. Yitchak, with his ears as his only guide, heard that the voice was the voice of Yaacov. The greatest statement of belief in Judaism is our Shema Yisrael, orHear Israel because it conveys this inner truth.

Rav Re’eim shows that the goal is to achieve integration between the truths known through sight and those known through hearing. This allows for the proper balance between confidence and an appropriate fear of heaven.  May we all learn from our forefathers of these two different modes of knowing and learn to integrate them into our own Avodat Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom. 




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