Seeing on the Surface: Kabbalah and the Deeper Sight

Note: Rabbi Eli will be lecturing in the New York and Toronto areas in the coming weeks. To book a presentation or consultation, contact him at rey@lightuntoournation.com.

In Mishlei (Proverbs), God declares, "Happy [through personal growth] is the one who hears Me." And in Devarim Rabbah, writings of the Sages, the Sages teach, "Happy [through growth] is the one who hears God.

The two questions that pop out at us are: 1) What does it mean to hear God? I mean, obviously it would be sweet if God just popped out of nowhere for chat, but is that really what these sources are trying to say? 2) And why does it cause this growth-oriented happiness? Or perhaps we should reinvent that second question: Isn't it obvious that the experience of a date with the Divine would result in a happy growth-oriented experience?

So, the underlying theme here is this: In Judaism, we understand the choice of words to be very specific and particular. God's not a joker and the Sages talk to the essence of the thing, so what does it mean to "hear" God as opposed to "see" God? Once we clarify this point, we can move on to study its consequential emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects.

A Parallel Universe
In previous articles, we have explained that the word Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew word makbeel, which means parallel. This is because one of the foundational secrets of Kabbalah is that everything in the physical world is merely a parallel of the spiritual reality. By studying the physical with the proper tools, knowledge, and guidance, we can get past our usual superficial understandings and delve deeper into ourselves, the world, and reality. Our senses are no exception. Our hearing and seeing are mere parallels, physical reflections of a deeper spiritual concept of what it means to truly hear and what it means to truly see.

Physical Sight
When you look at some thing, all you see is the outer layer of color. The first thing the eye has contact with is all you get with sight. Sight means, in essence, to see the cover, not the book. For example, when I look at my kitchen table, I see the external cover of the table, the surface of the table. I don't see the atoms flying around. I don't see the deeper inner essence of the table.

Conceptual Sight
The concept of sight means to see clearly, but only the surface.

We often judge people one way based on our first impression, but then we are exposed to something deeper about the person, which causes us to have a complete paradigm shift. This is the concept of "hearing." Hearing implies the ability to get beyond the surface and understand something for its inner depth. Speech comes from the inside. When someone speaks to us, he is exposing something of himself that is deeper than the outer layer, something beyond the surface. And it is only when we truly receive what he is saying on his terms that he senses that he has been truly understood and feels heard.

Recently, we hosted a couple from abroad for a Shabbat meal, and honestly I was wondering what the girl was doing the guy. She seemed like an attractive, with it, popular type, whereas he looked like a little bit of a goofball. Well, this couple and I hit it off quickly. As I talked with him, the way he spoke about relationships and other issues caught my attention and it became apparent to me exactly what she saw in him—depth—and in my opinion it's to her credit that that was what she went for. Later on, I got a chance to talk with her as well and without me prompting her she said, "My friends don't get what I'm doing with him, but people don't get him; he can sit there quietly in a group and observe for five minutes and get everything that's going on with everyone."

How often do we judge a person or situation incorrectly because we're only at the level of seeing, and not of hearing?

Seeing God Versus Hearing God
Just as we "see" and "hear" within the physical, so too we "see" and "hear" God.

In Kabbalah, it is said that God runs His world enclothed. What does this mean?

Again, Kabbalah always understands the world as a physical parallel to a grander conceptual reality. So, to understand the statement that God runs His world enclothed, we must understand the concept of clothes.

Dressing Up
As we discussed in an earlier article on clothing in Kabbalah, clothes essentially accomplish two things. Firstly, clothes cover up what is truly there. It is a covering up of the naked truth because were the naked truth to be exposed it would result in a revelation of essence that is so great that it is not appropriate for the present situation.