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One-Eyed Vision

Friday, 22 July, 2016 - 11:25 am

Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, related:

When I was four years old, I asked my father [Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe]: “Why did G‑d make people with two eyes? Why not with one eye, just as they have one nose and one mouth?”

“Do you know the Alef-Bet?” asked Father.


“Then you know that there are two very similar Hebrew letters, the shin and the sin. Can you tell the difference between them?”

“The shin has a dot on its right side; the sin, on its left,” I replied.

Said Father: “There are things which one must look upon with a right eye, with affection and empathy, and there are things to be regarded with a left eye, with indifference and detachment. On a siddur (prayerbook) or on a fellow Jew, one should look with a right eye; on a candy or toy, one should look with a left eye.”

The Rebbe described this as a transformative experience. It left him with a vastly different perspective, one that stayed with him for the rest of his life.


In this week’s parsha, Balak, we encounter a one-eyed villain. Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, was hired to curse the Jewish people.  Ultimately, he does not curse them. Rather, he blesses the Jews. The Talmud teaches that the Torah refers to Bilaam as “the man with an open eye” because he was blind in one eye.

What is the significance of Bilaam being blind in one eye? Why is the Torah making mention of his disability?


When we seek to lift ourselves up we have two options. We can bolster ourselves or we can put down others.  The Torah way, of course, is to work on ourselves to achieve self-improvement.  Through effort and internal transformation we can rise to great heights.

Diminishing others – while at times offering the illusion of success – doesn’t only hurt them.  It rots our own core in two ways. We cast hurt and pain and we stunt our own growth.

Having two eyes gives us the choice to choose how we view others. With one-eyed vision it’s an either or proposition.  Either I am on top or you are on top.  This is the attitude that motivated Balak and Bilaam to curse the Jews. If they succeed, we fail. In Yiddish we would say that Bilaam could not fargin the Jewish people. Lacking an English-language equivalent, it means not to resent or begrudge the well-being or success of others, but to applaud or celebrate it. For example, you fargin that your neighbor got elected president of the neighborhood association.

We humans are blessed by G-d with two eyes. We are able to succeed, while reveling in the success of others.

There are some things that deserve a negative outlook. But, certainly not the way we view our fellow.

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