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Op-Ed: The Penetrating Eyes of Israel

by Rabbi Pinchas Allouche

Reflections on recent trip to Israel, January 2009

Two Types of Eyes

More than anything, it was their eyes that captured me. They looked familiar, as if they had suddenly reemerged from a nostalgic time in the past where we lived together united as one. They came in many shapes and colors and travelled in all directions. But their piercing gaze revealed an untold story of a nation.

“The eyes are the window of the soul,” states the famous proverb. But sometimes that window is shut. Therefore, our Sages chose to divide the expression of our eyes into two categories; the evil eye and the good eye [See Ethics of Our Fathers, 5:19]. The evil eye seals its windows and focuses on the egotistic self. The good eye, however, opens its windows wide to connect to and ignite the soul of the other. The evil eye remains indifferent to the pain that it sees and creates barrages of separation between the “ego and the id”, the individual and the community. The good eye, builds bridges of harmony between them, in a place that transcends time and space.

A Different Look

Strolling the streets of Israel for the first time in three years, I noticed countless good eyes everywhere. They were in the streets, in private and national institutions, and even in the marketplace. I could almost hear them whisper: “We think we know you. Can we be of any help?” It seemed as if nothing stood in the way of these good eyes. Not the Gaza war in the south, and not the chatters about the upcoming elections. They remained unlocked, focused and determined to find a common bond with my soul.

These good eyes were uniquely different from several eyes I crossed in some countries around the world. The latter at times looked suspicious, tense and threatened. They would even change directions as soon as our paths crossed, as if they preferred a life of solitude and silence.

The Window to Our Collective Soul

These eyes in Israel are not particularly special or more beautiful than others. Yet it seems that their quest is entirely different. They are seekers of souls, not of bodies. They search for a common identity with the other as if they were a part of the same family. Furthermore, they look for a reflection of themselves in the other, for they know that essentially we all stem from the same divine root. And they know, almost intuitively, that their search will eventually lead them to a rewarding discovery and a better understanding of their common soul. It is as if they are on a mission to complete the puzzle of the Jewish family by rebinding all of its souls together. One piece at a time. One soul at a time.

Jews are indeed a family. Not entirely biological, but at its most basic form, a family, with an interconnectedness that finds expression in the eyes of our brethren. Of course, this expression does not always occur. At times Jews may think that they have nothing in common. Yet, as my dear mentor, world-renowned scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, explains: “This is understandable. Even biological brothers and sisters occasionally tend to grow estranged. They move to different countries, adopt different accents, ways of life, ways of behavior. Nevertheless there is this united element… very much in existence. We somehow find ourselves at ease with each other, comfortable within our own family. We feel a certain amount of safety in being together and we find it easier to make connections within the family.”

After all, isn’t this the way our very enemies perceived us throughout history; as an inseparable part of a joint entity, as members of the same group? Never did they differentiate between the young and the old, the poor and the rich, the fool and the wise. One person represented the entirety of the Jewish people.

Enhancing the Jewish Flame

This is a reality that cannot be ignored. Like the colors of a rainbow or the instruments of a symphony, we are all intrinsically connected. Consequently, we must ensure our people’s harmony by acting upon the calling of our collective soul. Prayers, a lending hand, a good deed based on the ways of our Torah and heritage, have the power to solidify our Jewish family and enhance the flames of our souls. Shutting the windows of our own souls, would be shutting the voice and identity of our family.

A story is told of a famed Chassidic Master who was found playing a “Rabbi and disciple” game with his older brother, at the tender age of five years old. The older brother acted the role of Rabbi and the Chassiddic-Master-to-be acted as the disciple. The game they played included a fascinating exchange between the pretend Rabbi and disciple. “Rabbi, what is a Jew?” the ‘disciple’ asked. “A Jew is fire,” the ‘rabbi’ replied. “So why am I not burned when I touch you?” he persisted. After a short pause, the older brother responded brilliantly: “because fire does not burn fire!”

Our inner, Jewish eyes are constantly in search of the fire of our soul, hidden beneath the physical layers of our bodies. It is high time we ignite and enhance its flame to illuminate the world. One Jewish fire that touches another Jewish fire, can transform this dim planet into an oasis of light, goodness and peace.

So have you ignited a Jewish flame yet today?

3 Comments

  • 1. thank you wrote:

    beautifully written as usual, Rabbi Allouche. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • 3. Ruben Yunatanov wrote:

    Rabbi Allouche,

    Reading your article made me feel as if I was right there with you during your journey. Great Article and very well written. HAZAK U’BARUCH.

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