This pasuk appears in the beginning of Parshas Ha’azinu. This theme comes up over and over in our tefilos. It is mentioned in the tefillah Ana B’koach where it says “k’vavas shomreim,” watch them like a pupil (vavas=pupil). It is mentioned again in the hosha’anos on Sukkos recited on Shabbos, which are titled om netzurah k’vavas, a nation guarded like a pupil. In the Shabbos zemer Dror Yikra written by Donash ben Labrat, it says v’yintzorcheim k’mo vavas.
Most of the Rishonim hold that the term ishon comes from darkness, as in b’ishon layla (see Mishlei 7:9). However, there is a disagreement about which structure of the eye the word ishon eino refers to. Rashi clearly writes that the ishon is the pupil – hashachor shebe’ayin. Rashbam and the B’chor Shor both hold that the ishon is the eyelid and it is called ishon because it makes the eye dark by covering it. A more innovative p’shat is recorded by both the Radak in the name of his father and Rabi Yona Ibn Janach in their Sefer Hashorashim. They write that ishon comes from ish – man. This is because when you look at someone in the eye you see a reflection of yourself (a small man) in that person’s eye. The vav and nun at the end of a word serve to make it smaller so it becomes ish-on. Interestingly, the English word pupil comes from the Latin pupilla, which means little doll (in French poupée) and boy and girl in Latin are pupus and pupa, respectively. This is where the other meaning of pupil (a student) comes from. The black opening of the eye was named “pupil” because of the small human form visible when one looks at another person’s eye; quite amazing. What’s more is that in the expression “apple of his eye,” the apple is the pupil. The phrase came about to describe something precious, like vision, and probably has its origins in the Torah. Why is the pupil used as a metaphor to illustrate something well-guarded? I believe pashut p’shat is that the pupil is well protected by the iris (colored part) and the sclera (white part) that encircle it. This could be alluded to earlier in the pasuk where it says yesovevenu, he encircled him. May we be zocheh to this level of sh’mirah from Hashem at all times.
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