Torah | Closing our eyes to seethe bigger picturethat lies beyond us


Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Rosh Chodesh Elul, Numbers 28:9-15,

Isaiah 66:1-24

The opening verse of this week’s Torah portion urges us to open our eyes and see blessings and curses placed before of us.  “See, I present before you today a blessing and curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26). At times, the difference between a blessing and a curse is quite obvious. At other times, that difference can become blurred and unclear. At other times still, our very ability to see might itself get in the way of attaining true vision.

In the early 1990s, Tony Deifell, a photographer and educator, started a photography program for blind children, called Sound Shadows, at Governor Morehead School for the Blind, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tony recalls that often when the photos came back, he and other staff would describe every picture for the students, acting as their eyes for them. Unfortunately, a lot of times the students would aim too high and get the ceiling, or aim too low and get the ground.

One such picture of the sidewalk came back. Lowanda, a teenager at the time, took the photo. After mentioning that the photo contained an image of the sidewalk, Tony was ready to push it to the side. Lawanda however insisted, “Wait, wait, man, I meant to get a picture of the cracks on the sidewalk, because my cane gets stuck and it’s a problem.”

She then sat down behind the braille writer and wrote a letter to the superintendent and said, “Dear Dr. Brightwiser, since you have the privilege of sight, you probably don’t see these cracks, you probably walk on them every day, and would you please get them fixed?” And she included pictures as proof of the damage and they were fixed.

Reflecting on this rich experience, Tony writes: “What I loved about this is, Lowanda learned a language that was not her primary language to talk about something that was important to her, a visual language, and the cracks represent cracks across all sorts of lines, racial, gender, economic lines, all these sorts of lines. So as soon as I understood the meaning behind Lowanda’s pictures, all the other pictures in the project became unfamiliar to me, they became new. How do we see the whole? How do we see the bigger picture of something that is beyond us? I think the secret is to look for stories of the cracks” (

We are blessed with many privileges that habituate our sight and blind our sense of vision. Like Tony and the superintendent, we sometimes don’t notice the cracks. We fail to see those who are marginalized, those who are not at the center of the picture. Simultaneously, like Tony, we also neglect to notice the finer details in life, the subtle nuances that help complete the image. We lack social sensitivity and our sense of creative awe is impoverished.

If we dare close our eyes, if we dare let go of some of our routine privileges, and rid ourselves of our social and spiritual blind spots, we may just learn to notice more, to empathize more, to feel more, and yes, to see more — to see more justly, to see with a greater sense of awe.

I believe that at times closing our eyes will enable us to see a more complete picture. Indeed, I believe that we might learn to see more if we would dare learn to close our eyes more.

In a month from now our communities will gather to celebrate the Jewish New Year and begin the 10-day journey toward Yom Kippur. The High Holy Days invite each of us to see blessings and curses, to discern the difference between the two and to recommit to a life of blessing.

Rosh Hashanah is also the day of divine coronation. A day that we proclaim God as our true king. With love and awe, we plead on this sacred day, perhaps more than ever, ve’eineinu tiraeinah malchotecha, may our eyes perceive Your kingdom, oh Lord. On this day, more than ever, we are asking for ultimate vision. We are seeking that vision from the King of Kings. As we do so, let us close our eyes a bit more so that we may gain vision beyond our immediate sight.

Rabbi Yonatan Cohen
is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley. He can be reached at [email protected]

Rabbi Yonatan Cohen

Rabbi Yonatan Cohen is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley. He can be reached at [email protected].