Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was a tortured soul with a brilliant mind. Although an unquestionably difficult person, he inspired love and loyalty among his disciples. And he could speak spiritual truths. Here are words of advice he offers to Maurice O’Connor Drury, a student who became a psychiatrist: “Look at your patients more closely as human beings in trouble and enjoy more the opportunity you have to say ‘good night’ to so many people. This alone is a gift from heaven which many people would envy you. And this sort of thing ought to heal your frayed soul, I believe. It won’t rest it; but when you are healthily tired you can just take a rest. I think in some sense you don’t look at people’s faces closely enough.”
We can look as long as we wish at a book or a tree or our dinner. We can stare for hours at a television. But look at another human face and there is an impulse to look away. We are overwhelmed by intimacy and the extravagance of the gift. Here the philosopher echoes the Torah’s wisdom of God’s image: to speak to another is a privilege, to look in their eyes a responsibility, a consolation and an inspiration to life.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.