In preparation for the extraordinary lack of sunlight on Monday afternoon, it’s ironic that our Parsha this week is called “Re’eh”, to”see”. While we -with our necessary eye protection- look towards the sun, what we’ll actually ‘see’ is the absence of light. Similarly, although Moshe tells the Jewish people to “see”, his subsequent description leaves them nothing to behold- at least with their eyes:
“See, I have set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing- if you listen to the mitzvos… The curse- if you do not listen…” (11:26-28). Interestingly, as opposed to the ‘sight’ we expected, we’re actually told to use a different one of our senses- hearing. Echoed in the Haftarah, Yeshayahu instructs: “Lend year ear and hear… listen, and your soul shall live”. But why did Moshe say “see” when he really meant “hear”?
If we rewind two weeks, Moshe told us how we should recall the Revelation at Har Sinai: “G-d spoke to you from the fire- you heard the voice of His words, but you did not see a picture of anything except a voice” (4:12), as it said then “the entire nation saw the sounds” (Shmos 20:15). The Sforno explained that they understood so clearly it was as if they saw. (Similarly, the shining sun itself is used as a metaphor in the Torah for clarity of understanding in Shmos 22:2). But why did Moshe say “you did not see a picture”- just say you saw sound!
In a self-contradicting way, sight -as opposed to sound- provides outer clarity, while also blurring our inner clarity. Meaning, it’s sometimes easy to grow complacent when we accomplish something tangible. For example, when we daven from the siddur- we assume we’ve done our part by saying all the words we see. And yet, as we’re all too familiar, we oftentimes lack the inner comprehension or emotion necessary for the prayers. The fact that we read every word with our eyes gives us a kind of comfort, but that comfort restricts our inner growth. Sounds, on the other hand, cannot be seen, felt or held. The only way to experience a sound or voice is to listen –internally– and comprehend its message.
Not-so-coincidentally, the Solar Eclipse falls out on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the very same time we begin blowing the shofar each morning in preparation for Rosh Hashana. Interestingly, at this time of introspection, our medium to motivate us is not a lulav, matzah, candles, or anything else tangible. The mitzvah of the shofar is to hear the sound. After a year of external motions and activities, perhaps we can point to our accomplishments, but we haven’t checked our insides: What are we feeling, understanding, or truly experiencing while we perform these sacred duties?
As Moshe instructs us, we must “see”, but not simply what’s on the outside. Instead, we have to clarify through an internal process- through hearing. To paraphrase Rashi at the beginning of the Torah (Bereishis 1:14), an eclipse is a sign, reminding us to perform the mitzvos of Hashem. As we witness the solar eclipse -and it’s restriction of sight, and as we hear the shofar’s call, we’re reminded to refocus our attention- not on what we can see outside, but what we can feel inside.