The Creative Eye

It used to be a common misconception that the camera never lies. Now, digital technology allows the manipulation of a photograph so that virtually anything is possible. Long before today's technology, however, artists took up the camera as a tool of expression because the camera can comment on reality as well as reproduce it. In other words, to some extent the camera has always lied.

The same is true of the human eye. Man has the ability to recognize reality - but he can also create his own reality.

When the Jewish people were poised to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe sent out spies to investigate the Land. These spies returned with a negative report. They slandered the Land of Israel and said that God could not bequeath the Land to the Jewish people because its inhabitants were too strong.

That night the Jews cried.

The Midrash tells us that God said, "You cried for nothing. I will establish for you a crying for generations." That night was the night of the ninth of Av, the date of disaster in the Jewish calendar.

What was the mistake of the spies?

God gives endurance to things by "seeing" them: "And God saw the light that it was good" (Bereishit 1:4). Man is created "in the image of God" (ibid., 27). Thus our eyes are "like" God's: we, too, can give enduring substance to that which we see. We can see Reality as it is - or we can invent reality: we can film our own script, using our eyes as a camera to create our own fantasy world. This is what the spies did. They projected their own fantasy world onto reality. They wrote their own script in which God was unable to bequeath the Land to the Jewish people, and then they used their eyes to film their fantasy and make it into reality.

On the ninth of Av, we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations) in the synagogue. The chapters of Eicha are arranged according to the alef-bet. The first verse of each chapter begins with alef, the second with bet, etc.

However, toward the end of the fourth chapter, there is a strange reversal of the alphabetical order. Instead of the letter ayin preceding the letter peh, the order is reversed. The peh precedes the ayin. Why?

The Hebrew letter peh is also a word. Peh means "mouth." Similarly, the letter ayin is not only a letter; it is a word also. Ayin means "eye." The very structure of the book of Eicha hints at the seminal error of the spies - they put their mouths before their eyes.

The spies reversed the alphabet of Reality. They put the peh, the mouth, before the ayin, the eye; they dictated their own false film script and then visualized their fantasy.

When we cry on Tisha B'Av, we are reversing the process that was the root of the evil of the spies. Tears wash the eye clean, purifying the perception of the world.

Just as tears purify the physical eye, expelling dust and foreign bodies, so tears expel the detritus of false perception.

In a flood of tears, we release our constrained emotions, and in the clear calm after the storm we can see reality.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.