Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Art of "seeing"

“Do you see Palm trees?
I see no palm trees!
Do you see camels?
I see no camels?

Perhaps before my eyes a brief passing shadow -
I see nothing, I see nothing!

it is a sign that we have not yet got there
And the horizon is still far
And your heart is still open
To the four corners of the world
And one needs to continue to walk
And continue to march
And the road is still pulling

Thus wrote, Naomi Shemer, the talented Yisraeli Poet, about road signs.
There are sights that one can see – palm trees and camels and a man resting under the fig tree. And if we still do not see them, it means that there is still a road to cross, a lesson to learn, a precision to be reached.
“Perhaps before my eyes a brief passing shadow,” says the wanderer. He means, “I notice that there is a reality that my eyes have yet to get accustomed to seeing.”

“It is a sign that we have not yet got there,” answers him the poet. In order to get there, one has to “see.”

What does one “see?”
Is it an anatomical or philosophical question?

Esref Armagan is a Turkish artist who paints beautiful paintings. Part of his talent is to explore new objects which he had not encountered earlier and interpret them in his pictures. Esref scribbles with pencil and paints with colours. His paintings are astonishingly harmonious.
Except  Esref is a blind man.
Already at birth, he was blind in one eye and later on lost his sight in the other. And still, he does wonders with his paintings. If asked, “Do you see camels?” he will answer, “Camels I do see, draw them and give them meaning.”

And please do not imagine that Esref only paints on paper as is customary in modern painting. He paints the object itself and his picture reflects accurately that which he paints.

Scientists were dumbfounded by the phenomenal painting skill of Esref. They put him through a series of tests, and MRI at different times. They discovered that only when he paints, not through any other cognitive action he engages in, his back brain with emphasis on his visual area functions.
Esref sees in his mind’s eye. He actually sees.

So many years of painting have trained his nervous system to visualize. Not with an eye but through sensual interpretation of what is being caught by the ear through hearing, by the hand though touching feeling and through his other senses, Esref’s brain interprets the pictures.

The power to see is stouter than the seeing eye.
In the Tanach, in Jewish traditions as well as Muslim ones, the prophet is referred to as “The Seer.”

Even Shakespeare planted in his plays such prophetic seers.

“Vision is stronger than the seeing vessels.
It is connected to the heart and the soul.
It is bonded to feelings and faith.
The eye allows it to see in the most basic form.
The other senses will give it volume and Life.”
A recent discovery by a team of Yisraeli researchers at the Hebrew Universiy, revealed that with the help of a newly developed camera, we can now see writings on ancient pottery, writings that until recently were invisible to the eye. A pot, dating back to the first Temple era, that was unearthed revealed the order of wine from a provider by the name of “Elyashiv Ben Oshiahu.” (Who would have imagined that thousands of years after his death, this man’s name would be revealed to us?)

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” taught us The Little Prince as he was recalling his forgotten Rose on a faraway planet.
The Torah portion of a few weeks ago, “Parashat Shalach,” recounting the story of the spies who were going to tour the Land and see whether it is good.

To see if something is good is not a mission for the eyes only. It is a mission for the heart, the senses, the soul and the great spirit.

Looks are misleading, perhaps a passing shadow and the eye misses camels, palm trees and amazing beauty. Here, Esref Armagan, one blind painter sees more than any eye could see because his heart, the heart is in the right place.
So why do the spies return from the Land and recount a story which gets more and more extreme?
Why did their eyes see only the scary giants and how were they even able to know that they were seen like grasshoppers?
And what really did their eyes see and how much of it was their heart’s fears and concerns?

This story tells of the fear of the new good, about the comfort of habits.

On the physical level, the eye that sat in the darkness will painfully shrink when it is suddenly exposed to the Light. Likewise, the eye that was exposed to bright light will be filled with darkness if it enters a dusky place. In both cases, the eye needs time to get accustomed to the new reality.

Seeing (ראה in Hebrew) which is considered the most factual (and it is not in vain that the legal term for exhibit, fact = ראיה =  in Hebrew is derived from the same root), is indeed conservative, hangs on to the familiar and fears changes.

The well known philosopher Emmanuel Kant, in his work “Critique of Pure Reason,” noticed the distinctions between man perception of reality and reality itself. All of our knowledge, Kant, claims, never stems from the object itself but rather from the traits that characterize it. The eye, the ear, the senses of taste of smell and touch are all tools to teach us about the object while the object itself remains unknown to us. Therefore, the senses that absorb the information and contribute to man’s knowledge of the object  are the result of the manner in which man’s knowledge and thought process operate, and accordingly interpret that which they take in.

So what have we actually learned?
When Am Yisral, while still in the desert, asks to send spies to see for them the Land, the mission is accompanied by fear of change and the notion that the receiving eye accepts only that which the heart feels and is ready to absorb only that which emotion guides it.

Hence is the command : שלח לך!"”Bamidbar, 13 ;2 (Shelach Lecha! Numbers 13;2) “send for yourself.” At the end of the day, each mission of “seeing” for others, can be yours and yours only. It stems from you, from your interpretation of it. The other who have sent you, had he gone by themselves, would have evidently seen what their heart told them to see.

And here is the message to us all. Anyone who has inscribed “mission” on their banner needs to know that testimonies which we gather on the road of our mission are ours only and that the scene, the sight is much broader than what our senses can grasp.

In order to see the deeper picture, one needs a special camera like the one developed by the Hebrew University researchers, or an eye that is powerful and talented like that of Esref Armagan . Or perhaps the knowledge and the realization that there is more, much more, is sufficient, promising and will adjust the mission for the best outcome.

The Iftar meal, celebrating the Holy Ramadan, does not center around the food. Rather it is the gathering of the family and friends, time for unity and love. Our Shabbat meal, likewise, does not surround the food but the bringing together of family and friends. Time for unity and love.
This gathering of our teachers is not about the meal that we are sharing. It is about the gathering of friends, time of unity, love and sharing. It is time of genuine brotherhood. And we know how to see that which we have and not only that which we don’t.

And when I gather all the sights that I see along the road of my mission, I want to come back to them, to Am Yisrael waiting in the desert and tell them:
“The Land is very bountiful. The Land is very good, its sights are breath taking, blessed is its fruit. Mostly, how wonderful and great is its People, how beautiful are its people, all of its people and how amazing and blessed are its many beautiful messengers.”

Shabbat Shalom

(A friend and a colleague of mine who wishes to remain nameless delivered this amazing and very enlightening speech a couple of weeks ago to a group of us. It was delivered in Hebrew. I decided to translate it and share it with the world.
Feel free to share. Thank you.)

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