Elul 23: Seeing in the Bible by Dennis G. Shulman

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I lost my vision gradually throughout my childhood. In 1968, when I went to college, I was totally blind. The years since have been blessed with great people, with myriad challenges, and with remarkable opportunities. During these years, I have also been blessed with a story from the Bible, to which I have turned many times to remind me that seeing–true seeing, spiritual seeing, the seeing that matters–is seeing beyond.

In the final chapter of Deuteronomy, we are on Mount Nebo. Moses is about to die. God shows Moses what he would not be able to see with his physical eyes–the entire Promised Land. Rabbinic midrash on these verses is disappointing, emphasizing how Moses, unable to accept that he is barred from entering the Promised Land, desperately, persistently, creatively pleads for his life. This midrashic tradition paints Moses as dying, bitter, unsatisfied with his portion, begging for more.

These midrashim miss the point, that God grants Moses on his death a great gift, perhaps the greatest of all gifts for Moses or any of us, the gift of spiritual vision. What God shows Moses on his death is what all of Moses’ long life of struggle and suffering is for. The power and meaning of this text is the power and meaning of the Bible. What we see when we see beyond what our physical eyes can see is that what we do matters. What we see then is that how we choose to live life makes all the difference, and that it is up to us to act in such a way that our actions lift and carry future generations toward their Promised Lands. So my prayer for all of us during this inward–looking month of Elul, regardless of how we pass or fail our eye exam this year, is that God grant each of us the gift of spiritual vision–that sees beyond our times, that sees beyond our selves, that sees beyond.


Dennis Shulman is a rabbi and clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in New Jersey. His most recent book is The Genius of Genesis. www.DennisShulman.com