Synaesthesia (from the Greek roots syn, meaning “together,” and aisthesis, or “perception”) is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as: “A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.”
We don’t normally think that sound and sight are two senses that go together in such a joined fashion. However, while technically only a small percentage of people experience the world this way, this is a reality that is nothing new to us.
We often use the word “see” to mean something other than to perceive through the use of our eyes. A child might say, “Can I see that for a moment?” What that child really means is, “Can I play with that for a while?” We also use the word “see” to mean “check out.” We might say, “Wait, let me see if my wife wants to go too.” This is different than seeing if someone is home, which could be a visual seeing. This is more like “looking into” than actual seeing.
These usages of “see” give us a wide range of insight into the beginning of Parshat Re’eh. Re’eh begins, “See this day I set before you blessing and curse.” There is no tangible item for people to look at when referencing this verse. What are we to see? “See” in this situation is more likely to mean “understand” or “know.” We are to “see” that we are constantly provided choices. These choices are to take what is in front of us and create either a blessing or a curse. In a simplistic example, we know that ice cream can be a blessing or a curse. We can partake of it in an appropriate manner and be blessed. We also have the choice to abuse a good thing and it turns into a curse.
In order to view something as a blessing and a curse we have to “see,” to understand the issues on both sides of the coin. When we get beyond the simplistic we sometimes have to work to “see” that opinions we hold can fall into both camps — blessings and curses. We see our views as the right way even though other thoughtful and intelligent individuals disagree. In the end we may be right but do we pay a cost by putting up walls between ourselves and people with whom we disagree. Are we cursed because of our inability to see beyond differences? What kinds of blessings are we missing out on?
Many things are “set before you” each day. Can you look with open eyes and understand with open hearts so in the end you can say, “Ahhh, now I see.”
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)