There is a remarkable place I go to, about once a year. It is a spot on the Oregon coast. And I mean, literally, a spot. When I stand on that spot,
I can see the whole world — all of it.
Straight ahead, I see the Pacific Ocean, waves rhythmically approaching and departing, humming a calming melody. Far in the distance, the ocean meets the horizon, and they melt together into a line of perfect milky blue beauty. I turn slightly to the left, and take in the dark, 10-story-high jagged rocks, partially eroded by centuries of contact with the water. They are lifeless on their peaks but play host to starfish and sea anemones at their feet.
Directly behind me, a neighborhood of houses. In one of them, many loved ones are collected — at this moment just waking up together, and discussing the swift recent departure of a flock of sea gulls and the possibility of locating crab shells on the beach. Behind the houses is a forest — a deep, damp, evergreen Oregon corridor — perched just above the sea line. And to my right — really, at my feet — I observe a small creek, originating from that perched forest, carrying its tiny stream from far away into the great, rushing ocean. Around the creek, and in it, are hundreds of smooth stones, created from years of weathering. The stones await the arrival of my young son, who will spend hours among them, touching them, moving them, tossing them back into the water.
From that spot I can see the whole world. I can see life and abandonment and flight. I see unspeakable beauty and I can see years of confrontation. I can see love, togetherness, petty arguments and laughter. I see things that never change and things that never stay the same. And I can see isolation and community, growth and stagnancy, big picture and tiny details.
And all from standing in one spot.
This week’s Torah portion starts with a potent word: re’eh — see. God says to the Israelites: You have the opportunity to experience the bounty of blessing, or to feel the burn of curse — it is up to you, dependent on your behavior. And God begins this speech with the word re’eh. God says: See. Open your eyes! Take a look. Israelites, re’eh: For a moment, stop moving. Stop walking, stop running, stop eluding, stop covering, stop blocking. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Just see. Look around. Stand in place and use your sight. There are visions to behold. Pictures to take in. Details to note.
This command is not just for the Israelites wandering in the desert, but for us, too.
Sometimes this is the hardest of all the Torah’s commands — harder than keeping kosher, praying regularly, giving tzedakah, teaching our children and lighting Shabbat candles. It’s hard, because most of us don’t like standing in one place for too long. And when we do, we prefer to have our eyes closed.
But the Torah’s job is to challenge us toward kedusha, to encourage us to wrestle with human nature. See, the Torah says, because once you have really looked, you will comprehend both the blessings and the curses. You will understand the light and the darkness around you.
As the month of Elul — preceding the High Holidays — draws near, we enter a season of seeing. In the coming month, find a spot for yourself. Look at your ocean. Be baffled by the enormity, and its raw, impossible beauty. Note time’s erosion of some things and its fertilization of others. See, too, the small trickle feeding into the enormous sea. Consider each rock that is part of the stream. Observe the constancy of the evergreens of your life. And crane your neck to really look into your house. What is going on in there?
This month, find yourself the spot from which you can see your entire world. Re’eh — look — to begin the work of teshuvah.
Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer is founder and facilitator of Ozreinu, a spiritual support group for parents of special-needs children. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.