Follow by Email

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Take another look


Rosh Hashanah 24

In the third paragraph of the Shema prayer, we say “You shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes.”

Isn’t that the wrong way around?  First you see something improper and then your heart chooses whether to stray after it.  It should say ‘you shall not stray after your eyes and after your hearts’! 

In Temple times, the new month was determined by the sighting of the new moon.  Each month, the High Court waited for witnesses to arrive to pronounce the new month.  One time they came to the court and testified that they had seen the moon and subsequently didn’t see it.  The Beraisa teaches that in such a situation, we don’t accept their testimony.   

Why not?  Isn’t it enough just to see it one time?

Abaye explains that their meaning is that they happened to notice the moon unconsciously and then they took another conscious look and failed to see it.  In this case, we assume that what they’d seen out of the corner of their eyes the first time was just the arc of a cloud.

There’s a difference between unconscious and conscious sight.  Your eyes are constantly seeing things around you.  You can’t really control that.  But when you’re walking down the street and see something inappropriate out of the corner of your eye, sometimes your heart tells you to take a better look.

That second look is the conscious look.  You’re not culpable for the first glance; that was beyond your control.  It’s the second look – known in Yiddish as der tzvayter blik – that gets you in trouble.  That’s why the verse reads “You shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes.”  The heart desires and then the eyes take another look.


It’s not easy today to control what your eyes see.  Inappropriate images abound, immodest attire is the norm.  But you have the choice whether or not to take the second look.  You can control yourself!