KOSHER SUTRA Ascend the hill and lift your eyes (Deut 3:27)
SOUL SOLUTION Look to happiness
BIBLIYOGA POSE Dancer Posture
BODY BENEFITS Stretches the shoulders and chest and improves balance
Sociologists used the report that men are more responsive to visual stimuli than women, but recent studies prove otherwise. We are human beings; we see something and we want it. Humankind has entered an era that is more led by sight than ever before through pictoral advertising and it’s been estimated that we are exposed to over 200 commercial messages each day. The problem is that this relentless eye-candy can often lead to unhappiness rather than deep fulfilment; we see pretty things (Iphone4, DeLorean sports car, youfillinthegap), we can’t always have them, and this can leave us frustrated.
Our Kosher Sutra is all about the eyes. Moses is denied his request to see the inside of the land that he’s led the people towards (3:26) but told to look ‘lift [his] eyes west/north/south/east’ (v27) to view from afar, because his successor Joshua will take the people into the land which he sees (v28). The people are later warned in case they forget the miracles that they’ve seen (4:9), warned against ‘lifting their eyes to heaven’ to worship stars or objects (4:19) in case their heart follows the things they see (Rashi, ad.loc) and they are led astray. Although we can imagine that Moses would be heartbroken about not getting to experience the land that he sees, we don’t hear of this supposed pain and can safely assume that he learned to be content with what he was given, rather than lusting for more.
Ancient yogis taught the notion of ‘drishti’ that is the visual focus in any yoga posture. Every single asana has a drishti and this is the place where our eyes are supposed to be looking whilst practicing an asana. It can be a fixed point ahead of you, the tip of your nose or even an imaginary internal point (ie centre of forehead). There is a clear meditative focus that completes every posture and if our eyes are wandering during a yoga practice then we are not completely ‘there’.
There is a value to controlling what we look at, and the Kabbalists stressed the importance of this because our mind is the ground for creating images in advanced meditation so we have to be careful what images we put in there*. On the other hand, we are not expected to wander through life with our eyes shut and there is a daily blessing for opening our eyes.
In his comic-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock, 18th Century English Poet Alexander Pope reflected on the way that men have been swept away by visual beauty, losing their senses and acting like fools. He wrote:
'Say why are beauties praised and honored most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man's toast?
Why decked with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels called, and angel-like adored?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-gloved beaux,
Why bows the side box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains;’**
Indeed, we can keep everything in the balance. Enjoy what our eyes see but maintain Pope’s warning for ‘good sense’. This sunday night marks the ancient festival of Tu B’Av when unmarried women would dance in the fields wearing white dresses, and the single men were encouraged to take a look and propose marriage to the woman who took their fancy.
Lest the virile men thought that looks were everything, the women gave this warning: 'Young man, lift up your eyes and appreciate whom you are selecting (to marry). Don't look at our beauty. Instead, look at the family (from which we descend)’***. Although John Keats may have written that ‘beauty is truth/truth beauty’, the Talmud reminds us that beauty is more than skin deep and that we should see with more than just our eyes alone. For all the talk of seeing, this is also the reading of ‘Shema’, when the Israelites are invited to connect through listening (Deut 4:6).
Summertime is a veritable feast for the eyes and although we can’t have everything we see, we can learn to lift our eyes, focus our gaze/drishti on what’s important and develop the art of looking beyond the surface to what really matters.