We are pleased to share Daniel Goldstein’s dvar Torah on Parashat Shlach from his recent bar mitzvah at Bonai Shalom.
You know, it’s quite interesting how something like the human eye, something so small, can have so many nerves, muscles and blood vessels. The eye takes in images upside-down, from our our brain’s perspective and then flips them into what we see. It is a huge, complex system. It is also one of the most prominent tools of perception in our body. People say not to judge a book by its cover, but we’re only human so we do it anyway. With, of course, the help of our eyes. Unless someone is blind.
Now, we think of the oh so complicated eye as how we see. But, what does seeing mean?(pause) Just because you are blind, does it truly prevent sight? In fact, the Aramaic term in the Talmud for one who is blind is sagi nahor, which means filled with light. Notice how, in many stories there is an old blind man with some great spiritual wisdom for the hero, like Tiresias in Greek mythology. This helps show that sight isn’t just a raw, physical thing. It is not just reflections of light. (PAUSE) In the birkot hashachar, the morning blessings, which recite each morning upon waking up, we say “pokeiach ‘ivrim”, who opens our eyes, more literally it means who restores sight to the blind mean it could be literal or it could be opening as in a realization. A realization about yourself or others around you. Above all, it is a blessing which thanks G-d for the wonderful gift of sight- internally and externally speaking.
Now, in today’s parasha, Sh’lach Lecha, G-d tells Moses to send one man from each tribe to the land that he has given them. G-d knows the Israelites can just waltz right in to the new land, but G-d is equally aware that the people want to hear that the land is good from trusted leaders, a.k.a. the heads of the tribes. Moses relays the order differently, however. He says to see how strong the Cannanites are and how fortified the cities are. Upon this their expectation for what they see is poisoned and they report that it is good land that does indeed flow with milk and honey, but they also say Vesham ra’inu et-hanefilim beney Anak min-hanefilim vanehi ve’eyneynu kachagavim vechen hayinu be’eyneyhem. “There we saw giants, the Anakites who are of the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes.”
As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote, “Menahem Mendl Morgenstern of Kotzk says that it’s all right to say you feel like a grasshopper in your own eyes–that means you’re alert–but when you start guessing what you look like to someone else, you’ve given them permission to define you, so you’re still a child.” I agree with this. If you believe someone sees you as powerful, you will feel powerful. Again, sight is not only the eyes, but the mind and spirit. Both of which are sources of self-esteem and belief in oneself. As all of you have heard on the news lately, there has been a lot of turmoil in northern Africa and the Middle East. I believe that this was caused by a perception related “incident”. For many years, the people of these areas thought that they were powerless, which caused them to look powerless against corrupt government. When the first rebellions in Tunisia began, eyes were opened. The people under dictatorships felt and in turn seemed to others more powerful. This rippled and people began seeing themselves from a higher perspective. When this happened they could start to protest their governments’ policies. What we can hope, is that if a leader steps down, people will see the new leader as a good one, and that the leader will see his people as equal humans.
Now, as most of you know, my dad has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degenerative disease that takes away sight slowly, starting with night vision and peripheral vision. His vision is not as good as most people’s. All these years of living with a person with a disability have really made me think about how people perceive these disabilities. Just because my dad has a disadvantage, doesn’t mean I don’t look up to him. Many people, however, look at people with disabilities like they’re some sort of burden to society. Honestly, when some of these people learn of or are born with their disability, they feel just like the spies. They see themselves as grasshoppers. Even my dad, when he was diagnosed, immediately thought of bad things. He thought about what he could not do first, like driving. If you believe you are small, helpless, or incapable, then you will be. As my mitzvah project, I did the Visionwalk. I raised money to support the Foundation Fighting Blindness’s search for a cure for retinal degenerative diseases. Then I walked with families and friends of the blind, as well as the blind themselves. I walked to help the disabled see that they were not alone, small, or helpless, and to show them that they don’t have to sit there as lonely or small as grasshoppers. As a bar mitzvah, I hope to help the blind and other disabled people see that they are not small and that they have support no matter what, by continuing to make donations and participating in the Visionwalk. I also hope that others will see me and that I will see myself as a caring, responsible person as I enter adulthood. Shabbat Shalom.
Yasher koach, Daniel! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.