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Archive for June, 2009

Better to be blind?

Posted by rabbiart on June 11, 2009

The Salant Foundation article of June 9 comments on the Pirkei Avot  saying of Rabbi (Yehuda HaNasi, compiler of the Mishnah). He said (translation from Danby Mishnah, p. 455). ‘Look not on the jar but on what is in it; there may be a new jar that is full of old wine and an old one in which is not even new wine.”  Rabbi Zvi Miller observes that it is human nature to look at the external facade of a person and make assessments about the value of the person inside.

We can look at our own behavior and probably validate Rabbi Miller’s statement.  Or we can look to social science, as it’s not too hard to find studies (or reports about them) correlating height with success in business.  Here’s an old one from Slate for a starting point . Tall and attractive persons get doors opened for them that remain closed to the ordinary looking individual, and the self-aware among them will confess this is true.

We sometimes watch Extreme Makeover – Home Edition (someone I love is a sucker – in the best possible way – for feel-good stories).  Sometime in the past couple of years, there was an episode centered around a blind young man, who at one point observed that he considered being blind a blessing, because he simply could not judge people by their appearance.

My parnassa involves spending time on the phone with people I have never met. Inevitably, one conjurs up a mental image to go along with the voice.  It is rare, upon meeting the person or seeing a picture, that the actual image matches the mental image. People usually do not look how they sound.

Although so much would be lost without the ability to see,  what would the world be like if we had been created without sight?  Would we have found other senses to use in order to get to places of envy, jealousy? Would we have still needed the tenth commandment? Would the world be a more harmonious place if we could not see our external shells and only see the person within.  Living in darkness might make the world a brighter, better, place.

One of my rabbinic colleagues on the Arava Institute bike ride (here we go again) shared a compelling interpretation of the Talmudic statement about the earliest possible moment for saying the morning Shema. In brief, it says that – if you cannot recognize your friend from a distance of four paces, it is still too dark to say the morning Shema.  The interpretation he shared…. that if from four paces you cannot truly see that any individual is your friend – you are living in darkness and the day has not yet dawned.

As Rabbi Miller concludes “since every person is created in the Likeness of HaShem, every person is an entity of goodness. If we focus on the good parts of others, we will see them in a positivelight, and foster much love and partnership within our community.”

It should only come to pass, bimhera uv’yamenu.

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