Sh’mot: Seeing is believing

eyeWhat does it mean to see?

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, we come across many references to sight, seeing, realizing, being aware. Pharoah told the midwives, Shifra and Puah, to look and see whether the new baby was a boy or girl; they were to kill the boys, but they didn’t.   Yocheved, Moses’ mother, saw that her son was beautiful and knew he needed to be saved.  Pharoah’s daughter Batya didn’t hear the baby in the basket, she saw him, and moreover, saw that he was a Hebrew baby. She understood much at that moment – it was a baby, he needed saving, he was a Hebrew and her inability to accept her father’s systemic oppression of the Israelites came down to rescuing this one baby boy.

Moses saw his people’s labors and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and realized in a flash the injustice, the fear, the oppression…and saw he needed to take action. Even God saw the plight of the Israelites and finally set in motion the next part of the story.  And in the wilderness , Moses saw that God appeared in the Bush that burned wouldn’t burn up. Moses turned his head from side to side to look and notice the strange Bush, realizing that he was witnessing something profound.

The flip side to sight in the Bible is awe. The words are connected by their letters : sight (ro’eh) and awe ( yirah). Just as seeing is more than just seeing, awe is more than awe. The midwives “feared God” and so they used their sight to save baby boys. Moses was afraid when he realized his killing of the Egyptian could be known and fled at the realization that his own identity was coming to the surface, requiring action. And of course, in the wilderness, an angel appeared and Moses noticed this awesome sight, aware that God was in that place.

Sight and awe. When we truly see the people near us, when we see magnificent scenery, when we see deep into ourselves, we are filled with awe. And sometimes fear, too. The great moments of our lives come when not just our eyes are open, but when we are open. Those who saw in this Parasha, really saw, were open morally and spiritually, ready to act on what they were seeing. They could act with purpose because they saw with clarity.

With any great endeavor, especially at the beginning, a healthy dose of clear vision, awe and fear are most necessary. Moses realized this, as did Yocheved and Shifra and Puah. Awesome (literally) things happen when we are open to seeing things differently, turning our head this way and that, like Moses did, to experience a moment of real vision. It’s good to live our lives with eyes and heart, mind and soul open to those moments so they don’t pass us by.

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