Vayechi: Seeing vs. Seeing

Vayechi: Seeing vs. Seeing

Glen Rock Jewish Center, Conservative

In our Torah portion this week  we derive the original blessing of Efraim and Menashe by their grandfather, Jacob. This is the foundation of the blessing traditionally recited by parents to sons each Shabbat, that they should be like Efraim and Menashe.

Before Jacob blesses his grandchildren, though, the Torah is seemingly confused about Jacob’s ability to see his family members after years of separation. In the opening verse of this story, the Torah says Jacob notices his grandchildren and asks Joseph who they were (Genesis 48:8). However, just verses later, the Torah conveys how Jacob’s eyes were “dim with old age” and that he “could not see” (Genesis 48: 10). Additionally, Jacob expresses to his son Joseph how surprised he was to see him, claiming: “I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well” (48:11).

This inconsistency begs the question: Why is it that the Torah says Jacob could not see in one verse, but then describes very clearly how Jacob sees his family members in other verses? In other words, is Jacob able to see his family members or not?

The commentators notice this tension within the Torah as well. Both Rashbam and Ibn Ezra understand this inconsistency to mean that while Jacob was able to see well enough to know people were near him, he was not able to recognize that the people he saw were his grandchildren. Many of us who wear glasses or contact lenses might be able to identify with this explanation. We might compare it to waking up in the middle of the night and walking to another room without our glasses. While we certainly are unable to see every detail of the light switches and doors, we can see them well enough to walk safely. While our vision may not be 20/20, the optometrist might still give us a passing grade and simply suggest to us, “just wear your glasses.”

But I’d like to suggest something different going on here. To put it simply, there is seeing and then there is… seeing.

On the most basic level, if we are blessed with eyesight, we see other people around us. That is, we recognize their physical being with our eyes. That is one way we see others. To the person who is blind or with poor eyesight, seeing others, in this way, may prove to be very difficult, or perhaps, even impossible.

But that is okay because there is another way that we see people, which is so much deeper.  This form of sight is not bound by our physical ability to see people. This form of seeing transcends any vision test given by our eye doctor. This type of seeing is the type when we see deep into someone’s being, when we understand their essence, when we acknowledge their soul.

When someone sees us in this way, we feel heard, valued and appreciated. When someone sees us like this, we feel safe. This is the epitome of feeling seen. When we connect with someone who makes us feel this way, we cling on to that relationship because we can unabashedly be ourselves.

Sometimes my daughter likes it when I watch her play. She doesn’t want me to play with her. She doesn’t even need me to sit next to her. She just wants me to watch her. This requires me to put down what I’m doing and set aside time to just sit and watch her. Inevitably, if I have dinner on the stove or another child who needs help, I might start to get a little antsy. Sometimes I may even look at my phone. And when I get distracted — even when my eyes are completely on my child – she feels and knows that I am not engaged. Although I am seeing her, I’m not exactly seeing her.

We’ve all done this, right?

As busy parents, we may see what our children are doing, and nod quickly, “uh, huh, I see you, that’s great, sweetie,” after which we quickly go back to make some macaroni and cheese. As spouses, we may quickly acknowledge that we’ve heard our partner before going back to binging on the latest episode of our favorite show. As colleagues, we may even continue to surf the net while pretending to pay attention on that Zoom call. We physically see others, but we’re not actually seeing them or hearing them. We’re not paying attention, appreciating, or valuing them. When we hear people say: “you don’t “get” me,” this is exactly what they mean. As a result, we lack connection and the relationship is often downgraded or even superficial.

The Torah is very clear that Jacob could not see. In his advanced age, his eyes did not work. Jacob conveys his feelings; he was worried for so long he would not get to see his son Joseph. Here we are, years later, and still Jacob is not able to see Joseph. However, it’s almost as if that didn’t matter because Jacob’s ability to see Joseph is not limited to his physical eyesight. Rather, Jacob appreciates the wholeness of his being, the miracle that Joseph is alive. And not only does Jacob see his son Joseph, but he also sees his grandchildren Menashe and Efraim. What a blessing!

Each morning we recite a blessing: Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who gives sight to the blind.

Perhaps this is what it means to give sight to the blind. While we often cannot control our eyesight, we can certainly control our vision.

May God grant each of us the ability to see others around us. Let us not just see people, but really see them, as we experience, acknowledge and affirm the very essence of their being.

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