Are You Seeing Things?

May 14, 2018 at 10:43 PM , ,

“…And all the people saw the sounds and the flames, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain; and the people saw and trembled, and they stood from afar…” – Shemos 20:15

וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק – שמות כ, טו

From the Torah’s depiction of the Giving of the Torah, it seems that Bnei Yisrael’s senses were entirely confused. Instead of stating that Bnei Yisrael heard the voice of G-d and the sound of the Shofar, the verse states, “And all the people saw the sounds,” and Rabbi Akiva in the Midrash interprets this quite literally: “They saw the audible, and heard the visible!”

What was the meaning and purpose of this miraculous experience?

Contrary to the popular idiom, seeing is a lot more than believing. To see something is to be certain of its existence, with no element of trust or belief necessary. No proof or argument can convince you to question a reality that you have actually witnessed.

matan Torah

Therein lies difference between seeing and hearing. For the sounds we hear do not affect us as deeply as the sights we see, leaving the truth of our “heard realities” up for discussion and debate. This is all the more so with regard to what we “hear about” and discover only conceptually. Even ideas that are logically sound and scientifically proven always remain subject to further questioning and analysis.

This explains why at the Giving of the Torah, Bnei Yisrael saw what is ordinarily heard and heard what is ordinarily seen.

G-dliness and spirituality are normally limited to “conceptual existence”; we believe these ideas to be true, but they are not part of our empirical and observed reality. When G-d introduced and presented Himself at Sinai, however, making Himself known to every Jew with the words, “I am G-d, your G-d,” His existence and presence became an unquestionable fact. The Jews saw G-dliness and perceived it with the certainty with which they normally perceived the physical world—what is normally “audible” became visible and absolute. Conversely, with the revelation of the Creator, the obviousness and substantiality of the created was no longer a given—what is normally “visible” became conceptual and abstract.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 6, pp. 119-122


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