Next to the self-portrait of Luca Signorelli in the duomo at Orvieto is a portrait of his master, Fra Angelico. There is a powerful distinction between the two men. Signorelli’s eyes are fixed outward, upon reality. Beside him, Fra Angelica, dressed in a cassock, gazes inwards. Two glances: one visionary, the other observant. |
It is one thing to see. It is an entirely different matter to be a visionary or an observer. The visionary will respond with long-term help and plans. The observer will take stock of the fact that we tend to ignore poverty and suffering until there is a major tragedy.
The Egyptians clearly saw the devastation wreaked by the plagues. They witnessed God’s power and majesty, but they refused to look inward and examine what they had done to deserve such suffering. Their great leader responded to each plague, but certainly not as a visionary. The name of this week’s portion, Vaeira, “I Appeared,” is a hint to the theme of vision. The patriarchs were all visionaries and observers. They were the perfect contrast to Pharaoh.
What about the former slaves? The text does not describe their response. It seems to ignore them during the 7 plagues described in this portion. We do know that their process culminated with the Revelation at Sinai. They were privileged to “see” more than anyone else in history. They were being trained to be observers and visionaries, as are we, every time we study the words of Torah.
We never just read the text. We delve, challenge, search, until we distill a lesson that will help us observe the world and ourselves with greater insight. We imbue the concepts and learn how to envision the world through the eyes of the Torah.
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