What might things be like when we are not looking at them? This question, which seems less absurd to me every day, is one that I asked often as a child, but only asked myself, not my parents or my teachers, because I guessed that they would smile at my naïveté, or at my stupidity, according to a more radical opinion, and would give me the only answer that would never convince me: “when we are not looking at them, things look just the same as when we are looking at them.” I always thought that things, whenever they were alone, were other things. |
When I think of the Golden Calf, or in Hebrew; “Eigel,” which can be read “Ayin Gal,” ‘open my eyes,’ it seems as if the people of Israel were seeking to see that which they believed they could not. They were wondering what was the reality they could not see. For example, was Moses still there if they could not see him? Had he disappeared on top of Mount Sinai? What is there when we are not looking?
If they so wondered about Moses would they not wonder about God’s presence? They had “seen” God at the Revelation at Sinai but would they always see God with such clarity? Would God be there even when they could not see just as He was when they could? What is there when we are not looking?
At one time I thought that if you were to set up a camera in such a way that it would shoot a picture automatically in a room where there were no human presences, you would be able to catch things unawares, and in this way learn their true appearance. I forgot that things are smarter than they seem and don’t allow themselves to be tricked quite so easily: they know perfectly well that inside each camera there is a human being hidden.
Besides, even if the equipment had cunningly been able to capture of the image of the same face, its other side would have remained beyond the reach of the optical, mechanical, chemical, or digital system of the photographic record. And it would have been toward that hidden inside that at the last moment, ironically, the photographed thing would have turned its secret aspect, that twin sister of darkness.
When we enter a room that is immersed in absolute darkness and turn on a light, the darkness disappears. So it is not strange that we should ask ourselves, “Where has it gone?” And if there can only be one reply: “It didn’t go anywhere; darkness is simply the other side of like, its secret aspect.”
It is a pity that nobody told me earlier, when I was a child. Today I would know all about darkness and light, about light and darkness.
Did the people of Israel know that God was present even when they were not looking? Did they suspect, as do I, that there is always the secret aspect question, hidden from us, that we cannot perceive or understand? These people had received the greatest clarity possible for a physical human being. But they wanted more. They suspected that once Moses went up Sinai he saw so much that he did not want to come down. There was more. So much more that there was no desire on Moses’ part to return. They too wanted to see this secret aspect. If they could not go up Sinai themselves, they would bring that secret aspect down so that they too could see what Moses saw.
Confusing? Perhaps. Were they mistaken? Surely. However, the desire to see more and more, this secret aspect, is inherent in everything we do, in every word of Torah we study, in every word of prayer we recite, in every mitzvah we observe. We need to want to see more.
We can make the same mistake as those who built the Golden Calf and hide a secret camera so we can capture images no one else could see. But there would always be that secret aspect. They had to learn that their power to see, to perceive, was within them. They did not need something external, they did not need a hidden camera, they did not need a Golden Calf.
They needed to use what they had already experienced and learned to use it as a new form of vision. They could have, had they looked, found the secret aspect that is still there just before us waiting for us to use this special vision of Sinai to see it on our own without any magical tools or cameras, but to see it with the power that is with in
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