Positive Vision - Day 25
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 25 - You Are What You See - Z’nus Ha’ayin
Let’s elaborate upon our eyes:
Eyes are referred to as the “windows to the soul.” We intuitively feel that we see a person’s essence, what he is truly made of, by looking in his eyes.
They convey warmth, anger, frustration, and consternation, and a myriad of other emotions with the most subtle nuances. Hence, when a person refuses to make eye contact, we perceive him as dishonest and shifty. He appears to be hiding something.
Likewise, a person who feels inadequate will look away from a person whom he finds intimidating. A child “caught in the act” will look away from the accuser. He feels unworthy of making eye contact, as if he will be “exposed.”
Making eye contact is essential for bonding. Babies smile when we “catch their eye.”
When people agree with one another, when they are true soul-mates, we say that they see “eye to eye.”
Most people intuitively feel that their “self,” or “soul,” is found in their eyes. In 2012, a study was done by Yale University psychologists. The researchers tested both preschoolers’ and adults’ intuitions about where the “self” was located in the body. They showed the participants pictures of cartoon characters, and in each picture a small object )e.g., a buzzing fly or snowflake( was positioned near a different section of the character’s body, but always at the same distance. They were then asked in which picture was the object closest to the person. The vast majority of the four-year-olds and adults in the study thought the object was closest to the character when it was near his eyes. This was true even when the cartoon character was a green-skinned alien whose eyes were on its chest rather than in its head. The researcher concluded: “Since these judgments are shared by adults and preschoolers, these results do not reflect a culturally learned understanding ... but an intuition of where in his body the ‘person’ resides.”
In fact, Chazal tell us that our souls bond with what we see. Here are several examples of this concept:
At the end of Chumash Bereishis, Yaakov asks Yosef to bring Ephraim and Menashe because he wishes to bless them. The pasuk tells us, Bereishis 48:10, And the eyes of Yisrael were heavy with age, he could not see: so he [Yaakov] brought them near him and he hugged them and kissed them. The Sforno asks: What is the connection between the loss of Yaakov’s sight and the fact that he brought Menashe and Ephraim close to him? He explains that when one wishes to bless another he needs to first create a connection of the souls. Then and only then will the blessing have its intended effect. The most effective way of achieving this connection is through sight. Since Yaakov could not see his grandchildren, he had to bond with them by other means, so he drew them close and hugged them in order to create the attachment.
Seemingly, the same applies to Yitzchak, who was also blind when he blessed Yaakov. He asked for food in order to bond with the recipient of his blessing, so that my soul should bless you. Yitzchak wished to bond with the recipient of the blessing by eating his food. Had he not been blind, food would not have been needed.
This insight, that our soul connects to that which it sees through “the windows of our eyes,” gives us a deeper appreciation for the following words of Chazal: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: One who commits adultery with his body is called an adulterer; but even one who commits adultery with his eyes is referred to as an adulterer, as it is written: “And the philandering eye awaits evening.”
In the same vein Maharal writes:
The Gemara teaches: R’ Acha the son of Yoshiyah says: Anyone who gazes at women will ultimately come to sin; and one who stares at even the heel of a woman will have unworthy children because seeing is a connection to women, and seeing is therefore the beginning of z’nus.
Just as actual z’nus occurs where one connects physically with one who is forbidden to him, visual z’nus is when he gazes at that which he may not and thereby connects with it.