My eyeglasses no longer work for me. In fact, I can see more clearly without them than with them. I am looking forward to a doctor’s appointment and perhaps new glasses or contacts so that I can see clearer and brighter. We tend to take vision for granted, until we loose it.
Vision is a miracle. Light bounces off objects and enters our eyes where the optic nerve turns that light into electrical signals. Then somehow our mind is able to interpret these electrical signals and see the world. In this week’s parashah, Yitro, we read about the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The people gather at the mountain, witness the biggest laser light show the world has even seen and hear the voice of God. They do not know to what they are witnessing, so they turn away, or move back and huddle together The noises stop and there is silence and,”the people saw the thunder and the lightning.” What does thunder look like? And why can’t we still see it?
The Midrash provides an answer from the mouth of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Akiba, always a mystic, taught that they saw and heard what could be seen. In other words, they literally saw the words of Ten Commandments being delivered. It is as if the word themselves contain light.
There is a psychological condition studied by scientists called synesthesia where people literally see sounds. Different musical notes appear as different colors. But this condition is relatively rare; it is unlikely that the six hundred thousand people encamped at Mt. Sinai had it.
Leonard Cohen, may his memory be for a blessing, wrote in his song Halleluyah, “There’s a blaze in light in every word, it doesn’t matter what you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Rabbi Akiba, the mystics and Leonard Cohen all agree that the words of Torah have vision.
The word light, enlightenment, enlighten has always been a metaphor for understanding. Therefore, this moment at Sinai is where understanding, revelation, and vision are bound together. God communicated Torah from God’s mind to the brains of our ancestors. Our people could see what God wanted them to do, and still, in our generation, we see what God wants from us.
We are taught in Exodus 19 that we are a holy people, based on living moral and ethically. We have many commandments set aside to help us do that. At times, our vision of the Torah becomes cloudy through negativity, lack of study, reading the words from a narrow place. We only have to look to our morning blessings where “God opens the eyes of the blind” to remind ourselves to take advantage of the gift of vision. Perhaps Mt. Sinai was our visual touchstone. See the miracles and ask the question: What does God want from you and from me?
Now is the time to see and to hear and understand what God wants from us; and then, most essential of all, to do it.