NASSO – INSIGHTS IN RASHI - THE POWER OF VISION  Yehonasan Gefen

 

Bamidbar, Rashi, 6:2, sv. When a man will separate himself:…”Why was the section of the Nazir put next to the section of the Sotah? It comes to tell you that anyone who sees a sotah in her state of disgrace, should take upon himself to abstain from wine [by becoming a nazir], because wine leads to adultery.”

 

Rashi, based on the Gemara,  notes the juxtaposition of the passage of the sotah to the passage of the nazir.  He explains that this comes to teach us that a person who sees the episode of the sotah should take on the nazirite oath in order to avoid the damaging effects of wine that caused the sotah to sin.  The commentaries point out a difficulty in this Gemara:  They ask that the seeing of the sotah’s degradation in and of itself should be sufficient to motivate a person to be extra careful in avoiding the factors that caused her to sin.  Why, then do they need to take on the nazirite oath in order to ensure their future zehirus (care) from sin?   

 

Rav Yosef Leib Bloch zt”l  offers a fascinating answer to this question.  He argues that seeing the sotah can actually have a deleterious effect on the onlookers.  For at the same time that he is seeing the sotah undergo great disgrace, he is also coming face to face with the person who has allegedly committed a serious sin. The yetser hara is so powerful that it can make him ignore the degradation that her sin caused her, and instead hone in on the sin that was committed and the lust that caused it.  The following sad story proves this point: There was a man who was a hopeless drunkard.  His son in desperation brought his father to see another drunk whilst that man was in a state of total degradation laid out on the street.  However, instead of arousing the father to change, he actually went to the drunkard and asked him from where he attained his alcohol!  Because of this powerful effect, the person who sees the sotah needs to take an extra undertaking to prevent himself from being drawn after the effects of sin.  

It still needs to be understood how the mere vision of the sotah can have such a powerful negative effect.  Rav Yosef Leib’s son, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, zt”l, explained by quoting the Gemara in Megilla that tells us that it is forbidden to look at the face of an evil man.   This is so serious because merely looking at something brings it into the soul of a person and makes a permanent imprint.  The Ran says further that this imprint accompanies him for eternity.   Accordingly, seeing an evil man can negatively affect the spiritual level of a person.   This also works in a positive sense, whereby seeing holy people or things can have a strong positive effect on a person.  This is demonstrated in the Gemara in Eruvin where Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi explains why he merited to be on a higher level that his contemporaries; the reason was that he once merited to see the back of the great Rebbe Meir.  He adds that had he seen Rebbe Meir’s face then he would have been even greater.   Another example of how what one sees changes the person is brought out based on the maamer Chazal that when Yaakov Avinu saw Yosef after so long he commented that Yosef had not stumbled in looking at forbidden things.  How did Yaakov know that?  The answer is that Yaakov could see in Yosef’s being that he had not sinned with his eyes - had he done so then Yaakov would have seen the imprint of those visions in Yosef.  This again proves that what one sees actually affects a person permanently.

 

The ramifications of Rav Bloch’s idea are very pertinent to our own lives.  The most obvious lesson is that guarding our eyes from forbidden visions is something of utmost importance to our level of kedusha.  A less apparent point is that even seeing things that are not necessarily forbidden can do great damage to one’s spiritual well-being.  One example is the bombardment of violent images in the secular world.  Studies show that the average teenager has seen more than a thousand deaths on various media.  Exposure to such unhealthy images certainly affects a person’s sensitivity to violence.  Another, somewhat surprising point is brought out by Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l:  He discusses whether women should be careful with regards to looking at immodest images.  One may have thought that there is no problem for a woman to do so since technically there is no prohibition for a woman to see another woman immodestly dressed.  However, in truth he writes that there is great damage done to a woman’s soul by looking at such images.  This is because of the point made above, that the images we see penetrate our inner beings, and therefore, immodest images cause damage.  He goes even further and says that women are even more influenced by what they see than men.   Accordingly, a woman should also be vigilant in avoiding seeing immodest visions.

 

To end on a positive note, the power of vision can also be used to elevate us; the sefarim hakedoshim teach us of a number of visions that elevate a person.  These include looking at one’s tzitsit, holy books, shuls and batei midrash, the shin on the head tefillin, and as said earlier, looking at tzaddikim.   May we merit to sanctify our eyes and thereby attain greater closeness to HaShem.

 

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