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What Our Eyes Can’t See
Mon, 09/16/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

Why do we cover our eyes during the Shema? Our tradition teaches that it is to avoid distraction and focus at this central time in prayer. Moreover, the Shema is a prayer about listening, and we can listen more intently when not looking; the limitation of one sense often makes others keener.  

Here is another theory. In writing about Kabbalah and the concept of infinity, mathematician Amir Aczel discusses the kabbalistic term for God — “Ein Sof” — without end. The name of God as “Infinity” was first used, Aczel points out, by 12th-century kabbalist Isaac the Blind: “It took a blind man to conceive of the idea of an infinite light.”

Everything we see with our eyes is by definition limited. You cannot “see” infinity, only boundaries. So at the moment when we are most possessed by the idea of God, perhaps the tradition is advising us, in the manner of Isaac the blind, to shut off our visual sense for that is the way of limitation. Reciting the Shema, we cover our eyes so that in that moment we can imagine, as best we are able, the infinite, the Ein Sof. We stop looking so that we might see.

Rabbi David Wolpe  is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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Vision itself as a stumbling block.
I think Moses would approve.

For Jewish People around the world, no matter what SHema means to them, the core basic means the one. And that prayer always since the time of a child brought me closer to HASHEM and tears.

This is extremely interesting to me. I worked at the school for blind children 4 days a week. On Friday, I worked with the deaf children. The blind children could see so much(without eyesight) and found life, in general, much less frustrating and much more fun than the deaf children. That has always fascinated me.

Rabbi, this was so important for me to read and learn about. I am 54 years old and I just discovered (about 5 years ago) that my fathers mother was jewish, I understand completely that the jewish line comes from the mother's line, and not the father's but still I have always loved and admired the jewish faith and I want to explore it more. I attended catholic schools all my life and went to church, but I NEVER felt at home there. I NEVER particularly cared for it. On the other hand, the times I went to temple, I really loved it. And this was long before I knew of my jewish roots. Now when you write this message about covering of the eyes during Shema, of course, this makes perfect sense to me. I read as much as I can about the Jewish faith. You have no idea how blessed I am with your posts. Thank you !