Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Seeing the Light

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Operation Inspiration

If someone says, “I have seen the light,” they usually mean that something they had not previously understood is now clear to them. Just as when you’re in a dark place and someone turns on the lights you can see objects in the room, so, too, when your mind is enlightened, you can grasp the truth of what is around you.

Interestingly, in ancient times, scientists and philosophers, such as Plato, held the extramission theory of sight. That is to say, they believed that the eyes contained some sort of light rays and the brighter those rays shown onto objects, the more clearly the person would see them reflected back.

Even in Chazal we find possible references to this. A blind person was referred to in Aramaic as a “sagi nahar,” meaning, “sufficient light.” This euphemism implied that the person had enough light in his eyes to see, though being a euphemism, he did not. Either way, the light was considered to be a part of the eye rather than discussing the eye’s ability to perceive the light.

Of course, these days we know that the light does not emanate from within our bodies, but is an external factor which our bodies perceive. Science has proven that our eyes don’t cast rays of light (though I’m not sure why they couldn’t figure this out in Plato’s times by going into a windowless room and shutting the door.) However, the juxtaposition of these two approaches to vision is fascinating.

In one case, light comes from within us and in one case it comes from without. Since the expression “seeing the light” refers to understanding, we can replace the word light with understanding and try that sentence again.

“In one case, understanding comes from within us, and in one case it comes from without.” This is a powerful statement if you think about it. Our beliefs can come from inside our hearts and minds or they can come from outside. If they come from inside, they may be raw, real, and deep, but they can also be self-serving and greedy. They can be skewed because of our own biases, and potentially very far from fact.

On the other hand, if our beliefs come from outside, we can rest assured that we are getting empirical facts and the untarnished truth. Well, unless those outside beliefs came from inside someone else, and may, in fact, be self-serving and greedy for another person. You see, it’s a tricky thing to be able to see the light and know what it’s showing you.

This idea began when I was sitting in shul one Shabbos morning. The lights in the shul are on timers and for some reason, that morning, they went off a minute before we began reciting the Shema. As we began Shema I closed my eyes and covered them with my hand. Suddenly, “TA-DA!!!” the lights turned back on. When it happened, I saw the light both literally and figuratively.

While I was embarrassed that it interrupted my concentration and I noticed the light turn on even though I was saying Shema, I gained a valuable insight. My eyes were closed; my hand was covering them; and still, I was instantly aware of the light’s arrival.

It made me think about what we see, which is usually what we’re looking for. If someone wants to find problems with a particular individual, then whatever he does will be viewed in the most negative way possible. If we have a low opinion of a group of people, then any bad behavior in one of them will paint the rest of them with the same brush in our minds. But one thing can change that – the light of truth.

Even though people may close their eyes to the truth, and may put on blinders because they don’t want their views to be impacted, at some point, the light of truth will be so strong as to be undeniable.

People have always discussed how we would know when Moshiach arrived. I heard in the name of the Chasam Sofer that when Moshiach arrives, it will be so clear that even a baby in her crib will know that he is here. That light will be so clear that everyone will know the truth.

That is what knowledge of Hashem, of right and of wrong, will be when the show’s over and the lights come up on our existence on this planet. All those prejudices and biases we’ve had, all the name-calling and righteous indignation we’ve done for the glory of Hashem and Man, will be exposed for what they truly are and no one will be able to contradict them.

All those acts we thought we were doing l’sheim shomayim will be laid bare and our ulterior motives will be visible. We will all “see the light” and know, without question, what we’re looking at.

That’s why it makes sense to work on our personal light now. We should try to make sure that the rays we emit towards other people and other things reflect the truth of who and what they are and should be. We should focus our vision on the light of Hashem and Torah so that we view things as they are, not as we would like to believe they are, nor as we would wish them to be.

When we do so, we will switch on the light of truth and no matter how blinded a person may be by public opinion or difficulty of situations, they will always have “enough light” to see by.

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