What if you could see with your ears?

Scientists at Hebrew University have developed a way to help blind people “see,” using a device that converts images into sound waves. With training, people who are blind from birth can learn to recognize faces, describe objects, and identify letters and words. This process of converting sensory information from one system to another is called “sensory substitution.”

It has long been believed What if you could see with your ears?that if a child is blind from birth and the visual cortex in the brain receives no stimulation, it will never develop properly and the person will be permanently sightless. However, researchers were surprised to discover that adults who were taught to “see” with their ears were actually using the brain’s visual cortex to process the information—the adult brain developed in response to stimulation!

“The adult brain is much more flexible than we previously believed,” says Dr. Amir Amedi, who directed the study. These findings give hope for restoring sight to people who have been blind for prolonged periods, through futuristic interventions like retinal transplant or direct brain stimulation that bypasses the eyes altogether.

When describing the giving of the Torah, the verse states: “All the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain.” How do you see “the voices, the torches, and the sound of the shofar”? In his commentary, Rashi explains, “They saw what is usually heard.” The Jews experienced a moment of synesthesia: they were able to see the thunder and hear the lightning that accompanied the giving of the Torah.

Chassidut interprets Rashi’s statement as follows:

In our usual state, we see the physical, while the spiritual is something that we only hear about—it is abstract, removed from our everyday experience. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the renowned “defender of Israel,” was known to say, “G‑d, it’s not fair! You’ve placed all the temptations of the world in front of our eyes, and all the holiness in books. If You had placed the holiness in the streets and the temptations of the world in a book, nobody would ever sin!”

But when the Torah was given, that which is usually heard was seen. The veil was lifted, and the people were able to directly see and experience G‑dliness, while the physical world faded back into the abstract.

Since that day, we have been striving to recreate our experience at Mount Sinai. To “hear” the physical and “see” the spiritual. To remember that there is a world beyond that which we can see with our physical eyes, which we can access through effort.

We sometimes get so bogged The spiritual and physical worlds are not separatedown with the day-to-day routine that the spiritual world may seem like a distant dream. Our jobs, housework, chores, errands, childcare—these tasks consume our time and energy. Our goals may revolve around putting the next meal on the table and balancing the checkbook, and the grander picture gets lost in the process.

But what we need to keep in mind is that the spiritual and physical worlds are not separate. “Seeing what is usually heard” means realizing that the physical world already contains the greatest spiritual lights. Our everyday lives are actually infused with tremendous beauty, passion and power. Each small mitzvah that we do transforms an ordinary physical event into a spiritual power source.

As science moves rapidly to develop better ways to help blind people to see, the spiritual world is also advancing and becoming more accessible to us. This process will be completed when Moshiach comes, when we will no longer be blind to the spiritual radiance that lies just beyond our vision. It will become part of our daily reality.