To See and Be Seen

In Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, our fundamental basic needs revolve around “shelter” and “safety.” After these basic but essential requirements are met, we ascend to the next level of psychological needs, such as belonging and love, which are satisfied by intimate relationships and friends. Broken down, intimacy can be understood as “Into Me See” and is experienced when others truly see into us and we into them.

Why Do We Fear Intimacy?

Many of us go through life with fearing intimacy because we don’t want to let down our guard. When we have experienced losses and heartbreak, it’s a natural tendency to self-protect from further pain. We don’t want to be utterly emotionally dependent, to need anyone so badly that if they were gone, we feel as if we couldn’t go on. So we sacrifice the real joy of intimacy for the illusion of safety.

And illusion it is, for the avoidance of risk is a short-term reward. What we don’t understand, sadly, is that in the long run and over time, these short-term benefits translate into the greatest harm of them all—the failure to achieve individual and relationship potential. As the saying goes, “Ships are safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are built for.”

Others avoid intimacy because deep down they are afraid that if others knew who they really were, they would be rejected. They can’t take that risk. But they pay a terrible price for their distrust, and in so doing, diminish those innate psychological needs for love, belonging and connection. The willingness to disclose our inner selves in the face of that fear depends on the courage to be vulnerable. When we allow ourselves to be seen and known on an intimate level, it is nothing short of a daring and audacious act of bravery.

In the words of Brad Meltzer, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else.” So, it’s not a coincidence that the biblical term for sexual intimacy is “to know.” But without “knowing,” there is no “seeing.” And without “seeing,” how can you say you love? The unfolding of one soul to another requires a steady emotional investment over time. Intimacy is a process; there are no shortcuts.

What Do We See When We See?

Re’eh means “see.” “See!” Moses exhorts the Jewish people, “I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” Why the emphasis on this word, “seeing?” And isn’t the difference between a blessing and a curse obvious? What we “see,” however, is not a result of what we are looking at, but a function of who we are. How many times in your life have situations that you thought to be blessings turned out to be a curse, or vice versa? “Seeing” the difference between a blessing and a curse requires “knowing” what they, in fact, are.

And how do we know? By learning what a blessing or curse is in the eyes of our Creator—by seeing reality not through our subjective and distorted eyes, but through a G‑dly lens, as revealed to us by Torah.

Looking With G‑dly Eyes

A few weeks ago, we read the sublime words: “How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, thy dwelling places O Israel.” As a “Curser for Hire,” Bilaam was employed by Balak, the king of the Midianites, to destroy the Jewish people. With two embarrassing fails under his belt, Bilaam was under a lot of pressure, trying desperately to get the job done. But instead of spewing hateful rhetoric, he spoke effusive praise, blessings and an end-of-days prophecy that ends well for the Jewish people.

How was that even possible? Because the Torah tells us that in that fateful moment, Bilaam “lifted his eyes to be like G‑d.” In his natural state, Bilaam could only see the Jewish people through the distorted eyes of who he was: an anti-Semite. But when G‑d lifted the curtain to glimpse Divine reality, Bilaam saw a completely different reality. As we know, this clarity lasted but a moment; when Bilaam went back to who he was, his vision clouded once again.

Making the Moment Last

A moment of clarity is a gift. To sustain clarity, on the other hand, is a conscious choice. Therefore, G‑d urges us to see reality—not with eyes that deceive us, but with a G‑dly lens. By training ourselves to see reality with G‑dly eyes, we can transform ourselves into the kind of person who sees things as they are.

Such knowledge, however, can only come through an intimate connection with the Creator. And that takes time. It takes vulnerability and humility. And it takes courage. Recall Adam and Eve who “hid” from G‑d; they were afraid to be seen, to be known for what they had done, and in a foolish attempt at self-protection, they brought about their greatest harm.

Like it or not, G‑d knows you to the core and fiber of your being. And yet, you are special, distinctive and unique. And therefore, the situations you encounter in life are Divinely curated not for your entertainment but for your growth, and as a vehicle for greater connection and intimacy. Whether you see a challenging situation as the blessing of “growth-waiting-to-happen” or the curse of bitter disappointment depends on you. For it is when we are able to see, to know and to appreciate our blessings that we are truly blessed.