Seeing is not believing

“Wait and see”, “one picture is better than a thousand words”, “see it with your own eyes” and countless other idioms and proverbs try to instill in us the notion that visual stimulation is essential for making any kind of decision and forming any kind of opinion. The Russian proverb specifically warns us about the dangers of buying “a cat in a bag”, i.e. the item we haven’t seen.

We live surrounded by a multitude of images. Our eyes constantly register the change in the visual flow. In this very chapter, God specifically instructs Moses to go up the mountain and gaze onto the land he is not about to enter. In Deuteronomy 3:27 the word “eyes” is used twice, together with the verbs meaning the act of visual stimulation.

However, there a second mountain in this story. In Deuteronomy 4:11-12 Moses, in his turn, reminds people of Israel how they were given Toran on mount Sinai. The visual feast of fire, reaching the heart of the sky, the dark and stormy clouds, the burning mountain is suddenly interrupted by the total lack of imagery. The TV transmission has stopped, leaving on the screen only the black square, illuminated by the fire. “You have not seen the image’ says Torah, “you have only heard the words”.

It is easy to believe what you see. To believe just the words are much harder but this is exactly what is required of the Jews, about to enter the Promised Land. Not every image speaks the truth, not every visual experience is genuine.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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