Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1339ff; Vol. XV, p. 44;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 631ff;
Sefer Sichos 5751, p. 767ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Re’eh, 5745

Penetrating Perception

Our Sages state:1 “A witness may not serve as a judge.” And they explain the rationale: “Once a person has seen [a crime] committed, he can never find justification for the perpetrator.” This teaches us that sight does more than convey information. When a judge hears the details of a crime from witnesses, he can still think objectively about the matter and consider the merits of the defendant. If, however, he himself has seen the crime perpetrated, he will be too deeply affected to contemplate the matter without bias.

Seeing and hearing operate differently. When a person sees an event or an object, it penetrates beyond his conscious mind. The impression created remains with him, strong and powerful. When, by contrast, he hears about the matter, even if his source is reliable, such a connection is not established, and his conception of the issue is strictly intellectual. Therefore, he can weigh it dispassionately, and understand other points of view.

There is another difference between these two senses: When we see an object or an event, we grasp it in its totality, and only afterwards do we focus on the particulars. When we hear, by contrast, we begin with the particulars and work toward comprehension of the entire picture.

These two points are interrelated: Because one sees an entity in its totality, the experience penetrates deeper. And conversely, when one hears only the particulars, it is easier to be influenced by additional points of information.

To Serve G‑d by Choice

These concepts are relevant with regard to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Re’eh, which begins:2 “See that I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” The portion continues to allude to free choice, reward and punishment:3 “The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments… and the curse [will come] if you do not heed… and go astray from the path which I have commanded.”

Moshe is telling the people that their observance of G‑d’s commandments will not be a spontaneous response. Instead, they will constantly be required to make conscious choices.

Why does G‑d grant man choice? To elevate him to a higher plane of Divine service.4 Were man’s choice between good and evil to come naturally, he would not have any sense of accomplishment. What would he have earned?

For this reason, man is confronted at every stage of his spiritual progress with challenges which he must overcome on his own.5 By nature, evil has no substance, and as darkness is repelled by light, evil would be instantly subdued by the power of holiness. But in order to allow free choice to operate, evil is granted the power to present an obstacle to the forces of holiness. Indeed, the forces of evil are granted sufficient strength to parallel even the highest spiritual levels, for there must always be an evil and a good to choose between. For this reason, we see that the choice to pursue material gain can at times extend beyond a person’s understanding, to the point that he is even willing to risk his life for these goals.

Nevertheless, these challenges have one purpose: that man face them and overcome them. The good which man manages to spread in the world thus becomes his own doing. He is not merely a recipient of Divine favor; he makes a contribution of his own.6

Sight as Assistance, a Command, and a Promise

On one hand, the challenges man confronts must be real. If they do not require that he tap his inner resources to overcome them, they do not grant him the opportunity to realize these powers of achievement.

On the other hand, G‑d does not want man to fail. He invests within him the power to overcome the challenges he faces, and aids him at every step along the way. One of the means of empowerment is alluded to in the above verse: “See that I am placing before you….” G‑d allows man to see the truth of “the blessing and of the curse.”7

As explained at the outset, when something is seen, a deep impression is made. When man sees the nature of the good he can achieve through the correct choice, and when he sees that the entire reason evil has been given substance is to allow him to make that choice, he will surely choose positively.

Alternatively, the word “see” can be interpreted as a command.8 The objective of man’s Divine service should be to reach a state that enables him to see the Divine purpose in his life. When this purpose is “seen,” and not merely comprehended intellectually, he will feel inspired to carry out his Divine service with increased vigor. Moreover, the word “see” can also be interpreted as a promise that we will in fact reach this level of awareness.

Seeing the Truth

The ultimate expression of the potential of sight will be in the Era of the Redemption, with the fulfillment of the prophecy:9 “The glory of G‑d will be revealed and all flesh will see.” In contrast to the present era, when we can see only material entities and G‑dliness is perceived as an external force, in that future time, we will see directly how G‑dliness is the truth of all existence.

Nor is this merely a promise for the distant future. The Redemption is an imminent reality, so close that a foretaste of its revelations is possible today. Indeed, it is already possible to see10 manifestations of the blessings of Redemption in the events which have occurred to the Jewish people in the recent past.