Olla Solomyak Luban

You Ask Me How I’m Doing


As it states (in Kohelet 1:8): ‘The ear is not filled of hearing,’ and it states (there), ‘the eye is not satisfied of seeing.’ This teaches that both of them [the ear and the eye] draw from thought. And what is thought? A king who is needed by the whole created world, the upper and lower realms. — Sefer HaBahir, 87

ספר הבהיר פ״ז
כתיב (קהלת א’ ח) ולא תמלא אזן משמוע, וכתיב (שם) ולא תשבע עין לראות, מלמד ששניהם שואבים מן המחשבה, ומאי מחשבה, מלך שצריכים לו כל מה שנברא העולם בעליונים ובתחתונים

All these things are wearisome; no man can state them; the eye is not satisfied of seeing, the ear is not filled of hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. — Ecclesiastes, 1:8-9

קהלת א: ח-ט
כָּל הַדְּבָרִים יְגֵעִים לֹא יוּכַל אִישׁ לְדַבֵּר לֹא תִשְׂבַּע עַיִן לִרְאוֹת וְלֹא תִמָּלֵא אֹזֶן מִשְּׁמֹעַ: מַה שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וּמַה שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה וְאֵין כָּל חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

* * *

You ask how I’m doing.

The eye is not satisfied of seeing and the ear is not filled of hearing. Glued to the news, the eye and ear are shocked, pained, nauseated. And yet, they keep looking — scrolling, refreshing, checking to see what’s going on. To stay connected.

The ear hears booms — some distant and others less so — planes, helicopters overhead. A siren. The heart jumps and we move quickly to what seems to be the safest spot in our home, no safe-room or bomb shelter within reach. We crouch and pray; an explosion tears through the air, dwarfing the booms that, it’s now clear, were much more distant. Our house is still standing. After a few minutes, we slowly rise to check what’s going on. The eye sees smoke rising in the distance. The eye checks the phone, the news — where did a rocket land? Were there any injured?

The mind wonders how long this war will last, if there’s anything else we should do to prepare — anything else we should buy, plans we should make, for a future situation we know nothing about.

The heart weeps and breaks at the unthinkable, unprocessable, slaughter and torture that has already occurred, at the pain and uncertain fate of kidnapped babies, children, women, men, at the pain of family after family burying their loved ones, others screaming for those whose whereabouts are still unknown. Shocked, and also reminded — of the countless tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over our history, of the countless times that nations have risen against us with the explicit goal of wiping us out. This is not new: What is happening now is what has happened before, history repeats itself in a desperate cycle that we have not yet broken out of. There is nothing new under the sun.

You ask how I’m doing?

Thank God, I’m doing ok. My family is safely in their homes. My community is busy on rotating guard-duty; organizing meals and supplies for soldiers, as well as for families who have been evacuated from their hometowns; busy helping each other and the victims of the vicious violence in any way that they can.

But this is not why I’m doing ok. I’m doing ok not because nothing happened to me. Something did — something terrible happened to my people, to my brothers and sisters in the south of Israel and beyond. I’m doing ok because underneath all this, there is strength. There is hope, prayer, trust in God, incredible unity and resolve.

The Zohar interprets the verse from Ecclesiastes as follows: There is nothing new under the sun. This means that above the sun, there is newness, meaning to be found. The cycles of history repeat themselves when we look only “under the sun” and not beyond.

What could it mean to look above the sun? The sun is what provides light and thereby allows us to see; it is the primary physical source of illumination that allows us to see the outer world with our eyes. To look “above the sun,” then, must mean some other kind of looking and seeing — not the way we usually look at the world with our eyes.

The best marriage advice I ever got was from someone who told us that we should see each other with “inner eyes.”

What does it mean to look with inner eyes?

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov speaks of the way we close our eyes when we are in pain, and compares it to squinting when looking at something from a distance. We squint when we try to see something that is far away; the farther, the more we need to squint to see it. Closing our eyes when in pain, Rabbi Nachman teaches, is like an attempt to see infinitely far, to the ultimate purpose and culmination of whatever we are currently going through, to a redeemed state where all is unified and good.

When we close our eyes — and also sometimes without closing them — we can see with inner eyes: inner eyes that can see a redeemed world from here and now; inner eyes with which we can see ourselves as souls of Am Yisrael, who have gone through many exiles and attempts to destroy us as a people, souls that remember the pain our ancestors have gone through and also their miraculous salvation, souls that are connected to each other as limbs of a single body. Inner eyes.

The striking verse from Sefer HaBahir, one of earliest works of Kabbalah, teaches us that the eyes and ears both “draw from thought.” Centuries later, neuroscience and psychology confirm that vision and hearing are in many ways top-down processes, structured by learning and cognition — what we see and hear is shaped by what we think. The outer world does not reach our awareness “as is.” Our experience is so heavily structured by higher-level brain processes that we don’t have much of a grip on what it would mean to experience “the world as is.

The second part of the teaching from Sefer HaBahir suggests that in fact, there is no such thing. Thought is a king on which the whole created world depends. There is no mind-independent “world as is.” The world “as is” itself depends on thought.

Is this radical idealism? The metaphysical dependence of the world’s very existence on the mind? We needn’t go that far. A king does not necessarily bring his kingdom into being. But a king can determine much about how his kingdom operates, whether it lives and thrives. Perhaps the teaching suggests that there is no determinate way the world is that is independent of the mind, of thought — our ways of thinking, the way we conceive of reality, determine, on a deep plane, essential aspects of the way the outer world is.

And so, when our outer eyes and ears are weary and unsettled from the reality they are met with, and history looks like it’s on a crushing repeat-cycle, we are invited to look with “inner eyes” — inner eyes that can see beyond the familiar world “under the sun,” to a deeper, less transient, and more connected reality. The power of this seeing and the kind of thought it brings is, as the teaching in Sefer HaBahir suggests, not just in strengthening ourselves mentally, as individuals. It is in bringing forth the very reality it calls up on an inner plane. Thought is a king on which the whole created world depends.

You ask how I’m doing? The eye, the ear, the heart, the mind — we’re struggling. But the soul is strong and unbroken, calling for our inner unity to be revealed.

About the Author
Olla Solomyak Luban is a philosopher, teacher, and writer. She moved to Israel after completing her PhD in philosophy at NYU in 2015, and now teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at Shalem College in Jerusalem. She received rabbinical semicha from Beit Midrash Har’el in 2022.
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