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Home » Marriage, Yitro

Yitro: Taking Notice

Submitted by on February 12, 2017 – 12:10 amNo Comment | 2,632 views

Do You Notice?

You know the fellow, who regularly collects the prayer books at your synagogue? The one who quietly circulates around the room and carries armloads of books back to the shelf? I am sure you thanked him the first and second time that he took your book, but do you still thank him? Do we even notice him?

The sad fact of human nature is that we grow quickly accustomed to the nice things that people do for us and stop noticing the kindness. After years of quietly providing a free voluntary service, that person might very well wake up one day and ask himself why he still does it? Surely, he enjoys doing it and it is a labor of love, but no one takes notice and no one is grateful. No one ever lends a hand because no one even thinks twice about how the books get back to the shelves. Everyone assumes that it just gets done.

This happens in marriages too. When we first marry, we are infatuated with our spouse. We feel fortunate that the person we love and admire so much agreed to spend the rest of his or her life with us. We are simply overwhelmed by our good fortune. But with time, this enchanted marvel fades and we take our spouse’s presence for granted. We continue to love and admire our spouse, but we no longer marvel over their willingness to be with us. We just simply accept it as a fact of life.

But it is not a fact of life. It is a gift in every sense of the word that we give each other every day of our marriage. Each morning, as we wake up in each other’s presence, we both make the choice to share our lives with the other. This is a gift that we receive. We know it, but do we see it? Do we notice it?

There are many things that we see, but don’t notice. It is almost as if our eyes have stopped working. At funerals, we often wonder why the person eulogized in such glowing terms seemed so ordinary in life. Why didn’t we notice these unique qualities when we could enjoy them, why do we only notice them in retrospect?

The analogy for this is a fetus in utero. It has eyes, but it can’t see. It has ears, but it can’t hear. Then we are born, and our eyes, can see, our ears can hear, but we often miss what we look at and don’t actually see it. We hear about things, but don’t actually listen. We don’t take notice.

Noticing G-d

If you are believer then you know deep in your gut that G-d is present in each tree, flower, building, stone, puff of wind, ray of sunlight, kind smile, friendly gesture and warm heart. We know that G-d is present in each joyous occasion and each tragic loss, in each triumph and each trial, we believe with absolute conviction that G-d is everywhere.

But just like it is with our physical eyes in utero that cannot see, and our emotional eyes in life that often don’t notice, so it is with the eyes of our soul. Just because we know that we are looking at G-d, doesn’t mean we notice Him. He is there, He is taking care of us, He is holding us in His loving embrace, and we act as if He is absent and we are on our own.

The tale is told about a man walking in on the beach and notices a set of footprints beside his own. He is warmed by the thought that G-d is at his side. When the going gets difficult, he looks back and is alarmed to see only one set of footprints. In his heart he calls out, dear G-d, why do you abandon me in my hour of need? To which G-d replies, I did not abandon you my child. The footsteps that you see, they are mine. I have lifted you in my arms . . . I am carrying you.

This story resonates with us and we know it to be true. But we don’t feel that truth in our bones every second of the day. At times we have an epiphany and this truth hits us between the eyes, but those moments are few and far between.


Just as it is with our eyes, so is it with our breath. Our sages equated the Hebrew word, neshamah, which means soul, with the word neshimah, which means breath. Just as the body breathes, so does the soul. The body breathes in air and then lets it out, the soul breathes in love and then lets it out. Just as the fetus has lungs, but doesn’t breathe, so do we have a soul, but sometimes forget how to love.

Love is never static. It is a breathing living dynamic that is constantly in flux. One moment we are drawn toward our loved one in total devotion, the next moment we draw back and regain our equilibrium. We know that we can’t live all day in the deep throes of ecstatic love, we have to draw back and be ourselves to be able to function as normal human beings. We need to go to work, we need to eat, we need to drink, we can’t be constantly in our loved one’s embrace. But when we step away from that embrace to regain our equilibrium, we feel a sense of loss and want to fill the void. So, we rush to and fro, alternately filling with love and pulling away. Emerging into self-function and pulling back into love.

This is the desperate state of love and it is an exquisite torture that once tasted, we never want to do without. It stems from the soul, who is drawn to G-d and is tempted to expire in sheer delight, melt in the exquisite ecstasy of love. But it pulls back, knowing that G-d does not want it to expire. G-d wants us to live, to function and to be His ambassadors on earth. So, our souls draw toward G-d to breathe in His holiness, and then away, to share that holiness with others.

But if our eyes don’t see G-d, our hearts can’t love G-d. Like the infant in utero, we have eyes, but don’t see, a soul, but don’t feel. How do we solve this problem? Enter Mount Sinai.

At Sinai

When G-d spoke at Sinai, there was no echo. His words were absorbed by each surface. Echoes are caused by sounds bouncing off a solid surface. If your voice is traveling and encounters an unmoving obstruction, it bounces off and reverses course, creating an echo. A voice and a flat surface are disparate pieces and one obstructs the other. But G-d is not separate from anything in Creation, thus when G-d spoke, His voice did not bounce off. It was absorbed by every surface in the dessert.[1]

At Sinai, Jews saw G-d, as you and I see color in the rainbow and beauty in the flower. They looked at Creation and saw its Creator. There was a seamless continuum, an ongoing epiphany, that G-d is everywhere, G-d is everything. They had always been looking, but they never saw it. They never got it. At Sinai, they go it. It was so overwhelming that they fainted from the experience.

The Torah tells us that they saw what is heard. That G-d exists, is something we usually hear about. We can’t see it. At Sinai, they saw it. When you hear something, you don’t take it so seriously. It might be true and it might not be true. When you see it, you know it’s true. Deep in your gut, you know that what you saw is true. No one can ever take that from you.[2]

The Jew saw G-d at Sinai and no one can every take that from us. And while the memory is a finite muscle and can grow faulty, the reminders are always available. All we need to do, is pick up the Torah we received at Sinai, and study it. As we study we must remember that just as these words were spoken by G-d at Sinai, so does a timeless G-d speak it now. And just as at Sinai, these words penetrated because we not only heard them, we actually saw them, so can they penetrate now, if only we let them.[3]

[1] Shemot Rabbah 29:9. See Likutei Sichos v.11 p. 12.

[2] Exodus 20:15. See Rashi ibid and likutei Sichos v. 6 p. 122.

[3] This essay is based on Torah Or 36a and 55a as well as elucidated in DH Vaera 5739.