The very first word of this week’s Parashah is “Re’eih,” “See.” The full Pasuk (Devarim 11:26) is translated, “See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” As seen in other situations, we typically hear God’s words, or hear God’s commandments. Why does the Torah, instead of asking us to hear the blessings and curses, ask us to see the blessings and curses?
We are familiar with the saying “Seeing is Believing.” It means that only concrete evidence is convincing, coming to exclude all that is not tangible to our eyes as reliable evidence. This idea was not first created in the mid-1600s, though; rather, its roots can be traced back to the first mention of the Jewish judicial system. In a conventional Beit Din case, it is required that two eyewitnesses testify on behalf of the plaintiff in order for a claim to have merit. These witnesses must have seen, not merely heard, the situation in question in order to be acceptable in the Jewish court. Only they, with their eyewitness testimony, can come to incriminate the defendant. It is clear that the Torah prefers the power and credibility of sight over that of hearing. The question is, why?
After seeing the enormity of God’s might in Egypt, the Jews were whisked away from their servitude into the desert, embarking on a journey to Israel. Once there, they again witnessed God’s “Yad HaGedolah,” “great hand,” when He saved them from certain death by splitting the Yam Suf. After seeing all of these miracles that were performed for them, the Jews began to sing to God in thanks, recognizing his power. This praise was all as a result of what they saw. Shortly thereafter, the Jews arrived at Har Sinai, where they received the Ten Commandments, two of which were heard directly from God. They were told the commandments, one of which was, simply enough, to not make an idol. But what did they do? After Moshe failed to come down from the mountain in what the Jews thought was a full 40 days and nights, they created the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf, which would be their new leader. This was just 40 days after hearing the commandments. What is the difference between the two events, that their results were complete opposites? In one situation, Bnei Yisrael actually saw the greatness of God, automatically breaking out in song. In the other situation, they only heard God’s commandment, and without almost any delay, violated them.
What the Torah is communicating to us, with its preference of sight over hearing, is simple. As illustrated by the above situations, seeing has a much more powerful effect than hearing. To take a specific example, many older high school students are very close to receiving driver’s licenses; some already have them. Many car accidents involve new drivers where alcohol has been consumed. Occasionally, we hear about these horrific crashes, but are typically disregarded . But in many high schools, in order to successfully prevet alcohol-related crashes, films are being shown, detailing the horrors of drinking while driving. After seeing one of these films, the feeling is very different than after hearing about a bad crash. The visual example exposes the harsh reality that we, as humans, are not invincible. This effect is often not achieved by just a simple speech. That is the message of the Torah. By asking us to see, not hear the blessings and curses, it more powerfully conveys the benefits of listening to God, as well as the detriments to defying Him.