Given eyes to see: seeing is not always believing

They say that you cannot tell a book by its cover. True, but more damning, is that we very often are reluctant to make an effort to look closely enough to see the thing itself, to see deeper than the superficial. As a result, we almost always remain blind to the wonder and beauty of what’s really right there in front of us, preferring it seems to sleepwalk through life, believing that the cover actually does say something about the book!

We pass by a young man hobbled by a physical deformity and simply presume that his limitations extend to his imagination, intellect and dreams. We see a tall, powerfully-built lad and we bestow upon him the presumption of courage and inner strength. We see a teenager in a hoodie…

We judge, we presume, we anticipate and we react based on what? a cursory glance at the surface?

How ironic that we Jews, who have been so unfairly judged, are often guilty of seeing only the surface! We judge so much around us by  the chitzoniyus – by externals. We see one in Chassidic gab and exclaim, “oh, he must be pious!” The black hat? “He must be learned!” The gray hat? “Ha! Where is he from?”

Recently, a fine Chassidishe yungerman shared with me the story of a meaningful Torah gathering and celebration of major Torah writings where, “a clean shaven man with a bend-down hat” gave a deep Talmudic discourse in Seder Kodshim. He was then followed by a young man with a kipa seruga who captivated the learned audience, “with novel chidushim in Z’vachim.

But that was “just too much to handle.” Chidushim from a kipa seruga! Cannot be! Oh, yes we have become very chitzoniyus-oriented indeed. Our reality Our reality is what is in front of us. Black suit, great! Gray suit, ha! Kapote, great! Colored shirt, ha!

On and on. In every aspect of Jewish life and practice, we see the superficial, the external, the “apparent” and presume from that something more. But in doing so, we never use our eyes’ spiritual pupils, only our weak physical eyes. As a result, we see not with our spectacles but with our prejudice, with our negius (personal interests). We view the world and all that’s in it as we would have it be rather than as it is. We shun everyone who is “not like me” and embrace everyone who looks like we do.

I have heard Chassidishe children see a man in a suit and tie, with a bend down hat, ask, “Iz er a yid?”  “Is he a Jew”? They see a man, but they do not see a Jew.


Parshas Shlach begins and ends with seeing. The Meraglim instructed to spy on the land, are specifically told, U’reisem es haAretz – “And you shall look at the Land.” The parsha concludes with the mitzvah of tzizis. U’reisem oso – “and you shall look at the tzizis.

The Meraglim were without tzizis? The mitzvah of tzizis is instructive; it teaches the Jew how to look and see. To the uninitiated, the Jew with tzizis is a silly man who has forgotten to remove the sales tags from his garment! On the surface, tzizis are little more than hanging strings. Or…or they are constant reminder of all “the mitzvos haShem.” 

The tzizis do not change. How they are viewed, how they are seen, does!

The Talmud in Menachos comments on the techeles, the blue thread on the tzizis. The techeles is like the sea; and the sea looks like the sky; and the sky calls to mind the Kiseh haKavod – the Divine Throne. To call to mind the Divine Throne is to call to mind all of God’s commandments. Imagine! All of God’s commandments from a single blue thread amidst the other tzizis strings.

The techeles doesn’t change. How you look at it does! Is it merely a blue thread that contrasts and highlights the white threads? Or is it a direct connection to the sea, the sky, the Heavenly Throne and God’s commandments?

The Meraglim, too, were told to go and see…to see what? A land promised to each of our Avot, the land promised to a people born into slavery only to be redeemed by the Hand of God. What else could they have seen but a land blessed by God Himself. Yet, ten of the twelve saw only the chitzoniyus. They saw hats – shtreimels, kipot srugot; they saw wigs, snoods – they saw only the external.

They saw much to frighten them. Big people, strong people. Giants! They saw fortified cities, a land of mentschen fressers, an eretz ocheles yoshveia. It was all so intimidating. The ten, they saw the giants and the danger but none of God’s providence. They were blind to the holiness all around them.

Has anything changed, even today? How many refuse to see all that is holy on every street corner of Eretz Yisrael? How many speak only of a secular state, of a non-religious government, of a depraved, Western culture? Of an eretz ocheles yoshveia – of bureaucracy, of the hassles of integrating into this tough, sabra society?

They see with the eyes of the ten spies!

Jews, where are your tzizis? Ureisem es haAretz

Where are your tzizis? Your vision is limited because of your chitzoniyus approach…

Sadly, and frighteningly, seeing Israel with such narrow vision is not just a flaw of Jews and, specifically, the Orthodox; it is a flaw shared by the world at large. Since the State’s birth in 1948, we have been viewed and characterized with every negative connotation imaginable, with new ones added regularly. In just the past months, “apartheid” has been added to the long list of condemnations. Israel is a war monger, a brutal occupier, an oppressor of human rights; intolerant, insensitive, militaristic brutes incapable of even the slightest sympathy for the suffering Palestinians…

Where are the tzizis?

Recently, Marcella Rosen decided, Enough! She would help the world and interested Jews too, to see the real Israel. She decided that she will teach the world of another way of seeing the incomparable State of Israel. That the media creates an overriding negative impression of Israel does not make that impression true. So, turning her back on “the ten”, she aligned herself with Yehoshua and Caleb. Marcella decided to tell and share Untold News (

She gathers and disseminates the positive, glorious, and miraculous ways that Israeli innovation brings help, hope and healing to the world. “While everyone has been focused on the country’s decades of military conflicts, Israel has quietly become the most energetic, ambitious, go-go incubator of entrepreneurialism and invention the planet has ever seen. It’s true: Israel is a barrier-breaking dynamo of a kind never before witnessed in history. Acre for acre, citizen for citizen, no place is churning out more ideas, more products, more procedures and devices and technologies than this tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean. And the work that Israel is turning out is saving and improving lives around the world, every day.”

While the world has seen Israel as one-dimensional, a function of its relation with its Arab and Palestinian neighbors, something profoundly different has been happening “below the radar.” Israel has quietly become the little country that changed the world – and your life – for the better…without you even knowing about it.

In the online magazine ‘Frontpage Mag’ Jim Fletcher wrote about just two such innovations. We know that hospital infections are potentially deadly, yet sometimes hand washing, clean door handles and antibacterial aerosol are not enough. So, Aharon Gedanken, a chemist at Bar-Ilan University Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, focused on the fabrics used in hospitals – pajamas, sheets, gowns – and created an anti-bacterial “coating” that soaks into the very fabric, rendering it bacteria free.

Saving lives.

We know the world is becoming drier. The need for water is defined as one of the great national security issues of out time. So, consider the stunning achievements Israelis have made with drip irrigation. In a region where water is a prized and rare commodity, Israeli agriculturalists have been able to grow vast crops, using a fraction of the water supply other countries use.

Israel, a land of creativity, genius and innovation! Israe, a land where more Torah is being learned today than ever before in Jewish history; where there is a renewal and rejuvenation of every major Chassidic community, a proliferation of every category of Jewish scholarship from every segment of the Jewish community! Israel, this tiny land that others see as an eretz ocheles yoshveia, is doing more for the world than countries one hundred times its size.

The myopic, limited view of Israel is put forth by “the ten.” And not only the New York Times or CNN. These “ten” are all anashim, men and women of distinction; leaders, celebrities. But when all is said and done, their ability to see was limited by their refusal to see beyond the obvious and superficial.

It is time for everyone to add the blue techeles to their tzizis to join luminaries like Warren Buffet (“If you go to the Middle East looking for oil you don’t need to stop in Israel. If you go looking for brains, energy, integrity, it’s the only stop you need to make in the Middle East”) Bill Gates (“Israel is by many measures the country relative to its population that has done the most to contribute to the technology revolution”) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (“The impact of the Israelis on science and technology is immense, so that is why I am here and why I am investing here”) and to see with the eyes of Yehoshua and Caleb; see a land flowing with milk and honey, with creativity, innovation and genius; a land astonishing in its Torah learning and yiddishkeit; a land promised to God’s people and a gift to the world.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, lecturer and author. He has devoted many years in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and as vice president of marketing and communications at OU Kosher. He resides in New York, while enjoying his long stays in Jerusalem. His highly acclaimed "Something Old, Something New - Pearls from the Torah" has been published by KTAV, July 2018.
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