Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Putting Things into Focus


Operation Inspiration

One Friday night, my wife laughed at me. Now, before you get defensive for either of us, let me say it wasn’t a bad kind of laughter. She actually smiled broadly after she giggled, with the kind of expression you give a toddler who’s just picked a dandelion and given it to his mother, and said, “You’re such a good boy.” What had happened? We were discussing that I’d gotten a letter reminding me it was time for an eye exam and I said, “I think Hashem makes our eyesight change when we get older because He wants us to look at things differently.” That’s what prompted her lovingly proud response.

Well, I made the appointment and went for the exam. The doctor did the normal tests, putting letters up on the wall and asking me what I could see; never telling me whether I was right or wrong, just uh-huhmming and nodding as I identified an N as a V or whatever. Then came the part that anyone with long eyelashes dreads, the lens-flipping.

If you haven’t had your eyes checked in a while, I’ll explain. The doctor is trying to determine which lenses will help you best see the truest you can, so he’ll show you samples and ask which is better. The machine they use has a bunch of shutters and levers that flip the lenses back and forth and if you have long eyelashes, they keep getting brushed and tug at your eyelid. As the practitioner does so, he’ll ask, “Better now? [flip] or now?” or maybe “Do you like A? [flip] Or B? Again, [flip] A? [flip] or B?”

This time I was in for a pleasant surprise as the machine he used seemed to have jumped into the digital world rather than the mechanical one, and I didn’t get brushed by the changing lenses. It’s also possible that my lashes aren’t as long as they once were, but that isn’t really the point of this story.

What IS important is that as he flipped the various lenses trying to identify what gave me the best vision, I took note of something interesting. I didn’t just see things as blurry or less blurry, but I realized that some letters seemed bolder than others, and then when he flipped the lens, the boldness appeared on different letters. What I realized was the fact that something looked larger or more prominent to me was a function of the prism through which I viewed it.

There was no absolute here. In fact, all the letters were likely printed in the same font and were similar in appearance. It was my vision that made some of them stand out more than the others and it got me to thinking.

When we have priorities in life, the things which we feel are important and crucial, or situations where we feel things are crashing down and it’s a calamity, those experiences are colored by our viewpoint. The emphasis on everything in life may not be accurate, and is really changeable, as attested to by my experiences in the eye doctor’s chair.

In fact, as my original observation posited, Hashem wants us to look at things differently as we age, or at least as we mature. When we’re young, the things we have or the way others look at us may carry more weight than when we’re older and wiser. At certain points in our lives, we find that health or family are more important than those things, while our personal experiences may highlight certain other factors we find to be important and necessary. Things or people we felt we could not possibly live without may fade into the distance as we grow and change.

A person who’s gone through a difficult situation will likely be more inclined to help others in that situation, and recognize the need for some sort of assistance for people going through it. This is why Klal Yisrael has made so many wonderful organizations and we have Gemachs for everything from money to baby formula to simcha napkins. We have groups that help when people are sick or when people have passed in. Each of us looks through the lenses of the experiences Hashem has given us and try to see the truest form of the world.

What this also means, is the way we see things may NOT be so accurate. We may emphasize things that aren’t important simply because we’ve been trained to see them that way. Understanding that our vision is susceptible to outside influence is key – so we can make sure we’re seeing things the way we should and be able to modify our perceptions for the best.

When we stood at Har Sinai, we saw the sounds of the shofar and thunder. Yes, even things we normally couldn’t see were visible at that moment. I think it was Hashem’s way of teaching us that we’re never really seeing an absolute picture, and we should focus on seeing things through the prism of the Torah He gifted to us.

At each moment in our lives, when we see things as blurry, or dark, or barely perceptible; when we question ourselves and what’s really going on, or when some things loom so large that they take over our lives, Hashem wants us to try looking through the different lenses the Torah affords us, and ask ourselves, “Can you see it better now? Or now?”

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