Superman had x-ray vision – the ability to see through solid objects. I – and I’m sure many of you – have the power to see things our family members swear are nowhere in sight. We can describe the location of every object in the fridge and pantry as our children stand before an open door and say, “I can’t find the…” We can find clothing, toys, library books and homework all seemingly in plain sight, but clearly invisible to everyone else.
In this week’s parashah, Vayera (And God appeared), the theme of sight – what people see or don’t see – recurs throughout. At the very start of the Torah portion, God appears before Abraham sitting in the entrance of his tent. While Abraham may seem passive in this event, as God is the One who actively appears, one can only recognize God’s presence in one’s life when he/she is open and willing to see it – as was Abraham.
Immediately after this, Abraham “lifts up his eyes and sees” three men approaching.
He lifted his eyes and saw and behold, three men were standing before him. And he saw. And he ran to them from the entrance of his tent and bowed toward the ground.
He jumps up and welcomes them into his tent, offering them food and water and a place to rest and wash from their travels. Why does the verse repeat the phrase “And he saw?” Rashi explains that the first occurrence of the phrase means he saw the men approach, but the second occurrence means he understood – he understood that they did not wish to trouble him. In other words, Abraham – in seeing the travelers – saw an opportunity to do a good deed, exemplifying for us the need not just to recognize opportunities to help or do something good, but to seek them out – to look for them actively.
After Isaac is born: Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Sarah tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael from their home and although Abraham is not happy about it, God tells him to listen to his wife. Do we learn here that wives often see things their husbands do not or that husbands should always listen to their wives? Either way, the theme of “seeing” persists.
Out in the desert, Hagar has run out of water and she sets her baby under a tree and walks away. “Let me not see the death of my child,” she says. Here seeing refers to not willing to face the reality in front of us. God hears the cry of the baby and “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; she went and filled the skin with water and gave the youth to drink.” Did God just make the well appear, or could Hagar not see how to help herself? Sometimes what we’re looking for is right in front of us, but if we don’t believe we will find it, even that we are capable of finding what we need, we simply cannot see it.
Further on in the parasha, Abraham takes Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him as God commanded. Isaac points out to his father – in other words, he notices or sees – that they have wood and fire for the sacrifice but no lamb. Has Isaac figured out that he is to be the sacrifice? How often do children see the truth despite the adults’ best efforts to protect them?
Abraham responds to Isaac that “God will see to the lamb,” and when the angel stops him from sacrificing his son, “Abraham raised his eyes and saw and behold, a ram.”
Not unlike Hagar, Abraham did not see a way to save his son from sacrifice. Only once God showed him this was not what He wanted, was Abraham able to see a different way to honour God’s command.
I often tell my children (and maybe my husband too) if you look for the mayonnaise or the pickles or the library book or the test you need signed or the shirt you want to wear without believing that you will find it, you are effectively looking with closed eyes. If you want to see that only your mother (and wife) – who likes things tidy and moves your stuff from the kitchen table and the couch and the floor where you left it – is capable of finding your things, you will never see what is usually in front of your face.
Everyone only sees what they want to see and when immersed in difficult situations, seeing a way out is often challenging. Sometimes everyone needs a little help to find what is right in front of them. But when you believe you will find what you need, you can see that some things are not always as they appear. Keeping an open mind opens your eyes to all the possible things to see.
What do you see?