“Look at me and tell me what you see,” the standup comic asks of his childhood friend after inviting him to attend his show. The performance turns more serious than silly. On this night, the comedic art form becomes a setting for personal revelations of a troubled past. It also implicates the inaction of passive spectators. As such a spectator at a magnificent Tel Aviv performance earlier this week of David Grossman’s award winning book A Horse Walks Into A Bar, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we respond to what we see.
Seeing and being seen are central to the opening and closing of this week’s portion of Torah. Pilgrimage Festivals, we are taught, should be bound for Jerusalem. “Three times each year – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – the maturely responsible shall appear in the place of God’s choosing, and they shall not appear before God empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). Appearing or being seen is known in Hebrew as Re’iyah. It involves more than simply showing up. Its deeper meaning can be elusive, especially for our tradition which prioritizes listening over seeing.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to highlight one way of in which wrongful appearing can lead to mishap. “One who suffers from myopia is exempt from making Festival pilgrimage”(suma b’echad me-einav patur min ha-re’iyah). Those who could not see multiple perspectives could not fully celebrate Holy Days.
Dim or narrow vision may also aggravate troubled interpersonal relationships. With Rosh Hashanah’s hope for personal repair and renewal just one month away, now is the best time to ask, “What don’t I see?” Things may be particularly tense with a friend or colleague. The seasonal challenge is to not be passive bystanders in the face of deteriorating circumstances. Now is the time to bring more peripheral vision to how we look at our unsettled associations.
May sincere efforts to see more and to do more about what we see help make the weeks leading up to the New Year 5779 a season of healing and hope.