The "Eye" Generation
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
See, I place before you today blessing and curse... (Devarim 11:26)
Though, in some circles, "talk is cheap," in the world of Torah, it
is anything but. Man's G-dly side is manifested in his power of
speech, and, a power it is. And, even though "It's not what you say
but how you say it" can be true, usually WHAT one says makes all the
difference in the world.
For example, it would have been more than sufficient for Moshe
Rabbeinu to begin the above posuk without the word "see." True, even
in everyday speech a person may use such a word to emphasize the need
for the listener's attention. However, when the Torah employs such a
technique, it usually implies something deep, and this is why many
commentators spend time looking for deeper meanings of this word.
As is the mandate of "Perceptions," we're going to take a more
Kabbalistic approach and talk about the eyes themselves.
There are five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. If
you were to ask the average person "off the top of his head" what he
thought was the most powerful of the five senses, he might answer
anything but sight. After all, each of the other four provide some
kind of sensual pleasure; what pleasure can one FEEL through his or
On the other hand, each of the other four have an inherent weakness
that sight does not. For example, the average person can see farther
than he can hear, and faster. Smell can be confusing because of all
the many smells in the air, and, depends upon the person being quite
close to the source of the smell. And, when it comes to both taste
and touch, neither is possible if the source of either does not come
into direct contact with the person tasting or touching.
However, isn't it amazing how when two pairs of eyes lock onto each
other, from as far as even twenty feet away or more, distance seems
to disappear. Eyes seem to be able to "bore" into people, unlike the
other of the five senses. They seem to be able to penetrate to the
very depths of a person's soul, which is why they have been called
"windows to the soul."
In fact, the Talmud warns:
The yetzer hara has no power except with respect to what the eyes
see. (Sotah 8a)
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the distance between the eyes
and the brain is shortest of all the five senses, resulting in a
stronger neuro-sensation and leaving little time to double-think what
one is beholding (I made that up; is it true?). Whatever the reason,
the Talmud's premise seems to be true since the beginning of mankind:
The woman SAW that the tree was good to eat, and that it was
desirable to the EYES... (Bereishis 1:6)
However, this posuk only scratches the surface of the idea, as we
will now discuss.
"... The third aspect is that the 'Seichel' (Mind) and the Da'as are
also spoken of in terms of 'eating,' as we see in Yechezkel, 'Eat
this scroll ... And He fed me that scroll ... Feed your stomach and
fill your innards with this scroll ... So I ate, and it was as sweet
as honey in my mouth' (Yechezkel 3:1-3). Likewise, we find in
Yeshayahu, 'Go, buy, and eat; go and buy wine and milk without money
and without price' (Yeshayahu 55:1). We find similar examples in
Chazal in, where they compared the words of Torah to water, wine,
oil, and honey (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 81). Thus, the Seichel and the
Da'as are also referred to in terms of eating, and the warning was
also: do not contemplate or GLANCE at anything with which evil is
associated. It is crucial to not LOOK at the ability of the Chitzonim
themselves, to investigate them even to learn how powerful they are,
so that you are not seduced after them. For, it is the nature of a
person to been drawn after that which he contemplates, for, the
Seichel, the thinker, and that which is being understood become
one... Therefore, there is great danger in looking at and contemplate
anything to which evil is attached, and, how much more so at the
Chitzonim themselves; it is very precarious to follow after them,
like a sheep going to the slaughter..." (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 441)
This requires some explanation.
The previously quoted paragraph is not as foreign as it may first
appear. In everyday language, you hear things like, "I need to DIGEST
that idea before I act on it..." or, "I don't know it I can SWALLOW
that..." and even, "Let me CHEW on that concept for a little while."
The reason is simple: our minds deal with ideas in a similar way that
our bodies deal with food.
First, we examine the potential food for that which appears to be
healthy to consume, and reject what appears to be unhealthy. All
ideas are subjected to an initial superficial examination for their
worthiness before we devote thinking time to them.
Then, we put the food into our mouths to taste it and use our teeth
to break it down to aid digestion. We do the same thing with ideas
when trying to evaluate their pros and cons.
Finally, once the food has been properly digested, it becomes
absorbed into the bodily system, becoming "one" with the person. The
same is true of ideas: once we accept them as being true, whether we
are correct or not, we mentally "absorb" them and they become part of
the way we think, right or wrong; we become ONE with the concept.
This is what the Leshem means above, and, just as one cannot spit out
poison they have already consumed (especially if they don't know it
is poison), a person has difficulty separating himself from bad ideas
if he has already developed an intellectual relationship to them.
And, the Leshem is both teaching and warning, that happens the moment
your eyes behold something, as was the case with Adam HaRishon.
This is the answer to one of the most troubling questions of all
time: How could Adam HaRishon, who had no internal yetzer hara yet,
and, who was on such a phenomenally high spiritual level at the time,
break such a simple command and eat from the forbidden Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil?
The answer, of course, is he didn't.
In other words, explains the Leshem in one of the most powerful
divrei Torah of all history, all Adam did on that very high level and
without his yetzer hara was LOOK at the tree, for, at the time, it
was the only place in all of creation that possessed potential evil.
He did so, says the Leshem, to conquer that remaining evil in
creation, for purely altruistic reasons, and become a partner with
G-d in perfecting creation.
However, what he had not anticipated was how powerful the evil
(Chitzonim) was, how weak he had been at the time (he had not earned
his greatness, but had been created with it), and how quickly he
could be dragged down by them through VISUALLY investigating them.
Quite innocently, an undesired connection to evil was made "through
his eyes," and the relationship dragged Adam down to a level where
eating from the tree became an INEVITABLE result.
And it all began with the sense of sight. This is the deeper meaning
of what the Talmud means:
The yetzer hara has no power except with respect to what the eyes
see. (Sotah 8a)
For, the eyes alone, of all the senses, have the power to make a
distant relationship become a close one, and when evil is the object
of that vision, one can find themselves in a visually precious
position, as the prophet Yeshayahu warns...
... And shuts his eyes from seeing evil. (Yeshayahu 33:15)
The following Talmudic passage emphasizes how much we must endeavor
to protect our eyes from that which can lead to sin. Parenthetical
comments are my own.
Rebi Yochanan said in the name of Rebi Banna: In all matters, partners...
(In the ownership of a courtyard.)
... can prevent one another, except for laundering.
(In other words, even though most activities in a jointly-owned
courtyard must have the approval all the partners in the courtyard,
according to Torah law, a woman can do her laundry there even if the
joint-owner(s) do not agree to it.)
For, it is not the way of a Jewish woman to become disgraced through
(As Rashi explains, since washing down by the river bed necessitates
that a woman remove her shoes and expose parts of her body that, for
modesty reasons, ought to remain covered in public, it is considered
disgraceful for a woman to have to do her laundry in such a wide-open
public domain as opposed to the privacy, or, at least,
partial-privacy of her personal courtyard.)
"And shuts his eyes from seeing evil" (Yeshayahu 33:15) -- Rebi Chiya
bar Avva said that this refers to one who does not look at women
while they are laundering (by the river). What is the case?
(Rashi explains the question: The fact that the posuk praises such a
person if he shuts his eyes implies that if he doesn't, he is neither
righteous nor evil. However, that is not the case, as the Talmud now
If there was another way (to walk), then he is evil...
(Even if he does close his eyes, Rashi says, he is stilled called
"evil" just for putting himself in the position to sin by walking in
a place where he knows women are forced to stand immodestly.)
If there was no other way (to pass), then he had no choice...
(And, there is a well known concept in Jewish law: The Torah forgives
the forcee. That is, if he happened to momentarily glance at a women
washing her clothes by the river bed, having no other way to walk,
and see her immodestly dressed the Torah does not hold him
responsible. Therefore, why does the posuk from Yeshayahu praise such
a person and make it seem like he should close his eyes even in such
a case? Therefore, the Talmud answers:)
In truth, he had not choice (but to walk that way), and even still,
he should force himself (to look away). (Bava Basra 57b)
And, not just as a function of modesty, but, for protection from sin.
For, EVERYONE knows only too well how deep an impression something
makes on our psyche once we see it. It may be hard to remember an
actual smell after the source of the smell has been removed, to
continue to hear that which no longer makes a noise, to taste that
which has long left our mouths, or, to feel that which is beyond our
However, even a short glance is like taking a "snap shot" with our
minds, and, even years later, we can still see on the "screens" of
our imaginations images that, perhaps, should have been long
forgotten. A short glance can result in an instantaneous
relationship, for better or for worse, longer lasting, perhaps, than
any that may be built with the other senses.
And, that is why Moshe Rabbeinu began with the word, "See," for,
embedded in that single word is the secret to binding to blessing,
and, avoiding curse. Western society, which continues to feed (read:
bombard) innocent (and not-so-innocent) eyes with illicit images
daily, would do VERY well to learn the lesson.
Olam HaBah-World-to-Come-And Order Of Ascension
Before discussing what is obviously an extremely Kabbalistic topic,
we must begin with a series of introductions. For, just as This World
is only a 'corridor' to the World-to-Come (Pirkei Avos 4:16), so have
been all of these discussions up until now been a corridor to this
one about eternal reward.
Evidently, it is possible for a person to remain on the level of
Pshat in This World for an entire lifetime. Whether in everyday life
or in Torah learning, people can remain on levels of understanding
that do not go as deeply as they could, or ought to.
However, that is only in This World, and because of the yetzer hara
and hester panim. It is the yetzer hara that allows us to fear the
unknown, or to be just too lazy to research it, being 'comfortable'
on presently accessible levels; it is the 'hiding of G-d's face' that
fools us into believing there is no urgency to tread the deepest and
most holy levels of Torah learning.
That will all change, of course, in Yemos HaMoshiach, once G-d
reveals Himself more and the yetzer hara, by definition, must end its
existence. Bad habits will cease and love for Torah growth will
increase, and, movement in the direction of Techiyas HaMeisim and
Olam HaBah will be synonymous with intellectually relating to Sod
(Kabbalah). They will be one and the same thing.
In simple layman's terms, what is the World-to-Come?
It will be eternal pleasure.
What will be the source of that eternal pleasure?
(Once, a beginner asked me, "Will we play basketball there?" When I
told him, no, he shook his head and said, "How boring...")
G-d. Somehow you will be able to 'feel' G-d, and, in doing so, you
will have the sensation (a borrowed term from everyday life in the
mundane world of This World) of more pleasure than you have ever had,
no matter how good your life has been until then, and can ever
Relateable? Perhaps a little, perhaps not at all.
So, before trying to make that idea more tangible (huh!), which may
take eternity to do so (but we'll try to keep it shorter), let's
first discuss some of the more technical details, such as, who gets
1. Who Goes To The World To Come?
(Much of the following material comes from "The Big Picture:
Thirty-Six Sessions To Intellectual & Spiritual Clarity")
The mystery of the World-to-Come goes beyond just our understanding
of what it is, and where it is. Even judgments to do with the
World-to-Come are a function of Kavshei Rachmanah-Mysteries of G-d, a
level of understanding too lofty for us to discern and relate to.
Therefore, though a Bais Din, a Jewish court of law, may decide
issues of life and death and even carry out capital punishment, it
cannot decide a person's fate in the World-to-Come. Eternal reward
and punishment are a function of Heavenly calculations to sublime for
man, in his present state, to understand.
Hence, the Talmud can conclude:
The Dorshei Reshumos used to say: Everyone goes to the World-to-Come,
even Doeg Edomi, Achitophel, Yeravam ben Nevat, Achav, Menashe,
Gechazi... (Sanhedrin 104b)
-that is, even people we would have assumed would never make it to
This means that every Jew, no matter how far he strays, will end up
in the World-to-Come. However, if that is in fact the case, then what
does the Talmud mean when it writes:
Jews who transgress with their bodies and non-Jews who sin with their
bodies go down to Gehinnom for 12 months, after which time their
bodies are destroyed and their souls burnt, and the winds scatter and
turn their ashes under the souls of the righteous ... But as for
minim, mesoros, and epikorsim who deny Torah or resurrection, who
separate themselves from the community, or those who terrorize the
living, or who transgress and cause others to transgress, as did
Yeravam son of Nevat and his "friends"-they descend to Gehinnom and
are judged there from generation to generation, as it says, "They
shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men who have
transgressed against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall
their fire be quenched." (Yeshayahu 66:24). Even after Gehinnom is
destroyed, they will not be consumed ... (Rosh Hashanah 17a)
The fire that The Holy One, Blessed is He, created on the second day
[of creation] will never be extinguished, as it says, "They shall go
forth and look upon the carcasses of the men who have transgressed
against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be
quenched." (Yeshayahu 66:24). (Pesachim 54a)
From the above two statements, it seems that there is a limit to how
evil a Jew can become before he loses his portion in the
World-to-Come. On the contrary, it seems as if not every Jew goes to
the World-to-Come in the end. What, if any, is the resolution of
these two points of view?
That will be the topic of next week's essay.
Have a great Shabbos,
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