Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guarding the Eyes

Art: "Forgotten Sunglasses" by Vladimir Kush

Written by Yosef Peretz, Mirrer Yeshiva Kollel, Jerusalem

The Talmud (beginning of Tractate Berachos) compares a person's soul to G-d himself; just like G-d sees but is not seen, so too the soul of a person sees but is not seen and just like G-d fills the entire world, so too the soul of a person fills his entire body, etc.. What does this mean and from where does the soul "see"? The Kabbalah answers that the soul of a person "sees" through his eyes.

If you look into someone's eyes, you're not just looking at a biological camera. You are accessing the deepest recesses of the person.

In contrast, any animal, even the most intelligent gorilla, lacks this completely. If you look in the eyes of an animal, you'll see a dead emptiness there. The hebrew word for animal is "behema". Which means "bah ma" - what is in it? Behind those eyes, there is nothing beyond the physical creature. An animal is just a machine.

"The candle of G-d is the soul of man".

"A mitzva is a candle and Torah is light".

The Talmud teaches, "sin extinguishes a mitzva but sin doesn't extinguish Torah".

The Zohar explains: sin extinguishes a mitzva and mitzva is a candle. So sin extinguishes a candle. But which candle? The candle of G-d - which is the soul of man. So, when a person sins, he extinguishes his own soul. He then walks through life in darkness (until he repents). Conversely a righteous person who has reached a high level of purity, has eyes that literally glow with a tangible spiritual light. I know from experience that looking into the eyes of such a person can have a life-long effect.

Having said that, a person should be very careful what he exposes his eyes to. Whatever you expose your eyes to, know that you are exposing your deepest essence - your soul. If you look at the wrong things, you literally extinguish some of the spiritual light in your eyes. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler taught (Michtav m'Eliyahu) that if a person does not sense holiness inside himself, it's a sign that his soul has left him.

This is why, according to the Talmud, it is forbidden to look at the face of a wicked person. When you look at his (or her) face, your soul absorbs some of the ruach (spiritual energy) of this person. Your soul which is beyond the physical, senses all the deeds and all the twisted drives and views of this person through his eyes and you become a little bit like him.

This is why children inherit the character traits of their parents. By constantly looking into their eyes, they absorb all of their parents' deepest spiritual traits.

The Torah forbids accepting a convert from the nations of Moab and Amon for all generations. Why? Because these nations demonstrated a lack of hakaras hatov (gratitude) to the Jewish nation when they were about to enter Israel. But why are their descendants excluded for all time to convert? Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian z''l explains (beginning of Lev Eliyahu) since their parents did not have proper gratitude, they will transmit this evil trait to their offspring and their offspring to their offsprings, and so forth forever and ever. By constantly looking into their parents' eyes, the children will inherit completely all of their spiritual traits.

Conversely, looking in the eyes of a Tzaddik (righteous person) elevates you. A person who has reached a high spiritual level has eyes that shine forth with a spiritual light. This is why it is so important to learn Torah from a great Rebbi and not just from books. The Talmud says, if your Rebbi does not look like an Angel of G-d, do not learn Torah from him. Only if you sense "Sinai" in this person should you learn Torah from him. Such a person will transmit to you the non-verbal, "internal" part of the Torah and the proper character traits which can only be transmitted through eye contact. No amount of learning in books can help you here.

I heard from Rabbi Simcha Wasserman zt''l that "when you review your lesson, picture your Rebbi's face while he was giving over the lesson. This way, you will review not only the verbal part of the lesson but also the non-verbal messages in the lesson".

The Steipler wrote (beginning of Kareina D'Igarta) every interaction with a person leaves a spiritual mark on you. The Chafetz Chaim said, the first time he saw a Jew willfully transgressing the Shabbat, he cried for an hour. The second time it lasted only 20 minutes. Why the change? He had exposed his eyes and therefore his soul, and was now no longer on the same level of purity as before.

One who is constantly surrounded by people with no faith is in great danger of becoming like them. This is not because of sharing their ideas. No! During every interaction, your soul absorbs some of the "ruach" (spiritual essence) of the person. If you don't strengthen yourself continuously, you will slowly become more and more like him. This is why it is so important to live in an area with a strong Jewish community. The Rambam wrote, if you can't find a community of righteous people to live in, you should move to the desert.

On a deeper level, everything you come across contains the "ruach" (spiritual essence) of it's source. I heard from Rabbi Shmuel Nussbaum of Gateshead (who is now a Rosh Kollel in Israel) that every book you read, contains part of the soul of the author. If you read the book of a tzadik, you are not only receiving the information he wrote. The soul of the tzadik also has a hashpa (a spiritual influence) on you.

Conversely, when you read the news from CNN or some novel, you should know that you are not just reading innocent information. You are putting your mind into the mind of the author, absorbing the spiritual energy and the drives and mentality of this person and you will tend to become like him (or her). Watch out! They didn't tell you that in the fine print!

The same is with the holy Torah. When a person learns, his soul is absorbing the spiritual energy of the Almighty himself! (Although in this case, the Almighty provided two conditions in order for the Torah to transmit the spiritual light (see Derech Hashem Vol.4:Ch.2). The first is proper Yira (reverence) and tikun hamaase at all times - striving to fulfill what you are learning. Without that, learning Torah is like reading a science book.)

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says a person can learn the laws of an ox that gores a cow, and it will help him in controlling his mouth from saying lashon hara (slander). Why? The light in the Torah, elevates his soul and gives him the spiritual strength needed to fight off the evil inclination to slander.

Think before you look as it says by Avraham in the Akeida - "And Avraham lifted his eyes". Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm zt''l says that from here, we learn that even lifting your eyes should be a calculated and weighed decision. Watch your eyes. Be careful what you read and what you look at. Try to attach yourself to a righteous person and you will become like him. Look at the picture below and in the eyes of the holy Tzadik - Rav Kook zt''l and you will taste greatness.

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