There was a man who visited his friend in a far-off town once a year. When he arrived one year, he was shocked to find a towering tree in his friend’s backyard, standing well over 60 feet tall. Most puzzling, though, was the fact that just last year there had been no trace of such a tree, not as much as a small sapling. Perplexed, he asked his friend, “I was here just a year ago, and this tree wasn’t here. What happened?
Did you plant a fully-grown tree in your yard?” His friend smiled and explained, “This is the Chinese bamboo tree, a very rare and unique tree. Once you plant it, you must water it every day and make sure it has adequate sunlight. If you miss even a single day, the seed will die. For five whole years, you must tend to the plant diligently, without seeing a single inch of growth for your efforts. But once you’ve cared for the seed for five years, the tree grows at an accelerated rate, expanding exponentially over the course of just a few months to a staggering height of over 60 feet.” The man was shocked to hear this, and as he and his friend walked away, he began to ponder the meaning of this strange tree. He eventually asked out loud, “Does the tree take five months to grow? Or five years?”
Two Stages of History
As we explained in the previous article, the spiritual concept of seeing is the idea of observing something as it is, i.e., in a completely static state, lacking any movement. When you see a picture, you grasp the entire image instantaneously. There’s no process of constructing or building the picture in your mind; everything is just there, at once, without any effort. The spiritual concept of hearing, in comparison, reflects a process – a movement through time, an evolutionary progression, one of effort, concentration, and organization of parts.
The relationship between hearing and seeing also explains the difference between the two stages of Jewish history. The first stage lasted until the time of Chanukah, the second stage spans from Chanukah until today. The first stage was a time of n’vuah and miracles, a time of “seeing.” Hashem openly revealed Himself to the world and was clearly known to all. This is why a Navi was called a “chozeh,” a seer; it was a time where all people, not only the N’viim, saw Hashem with absolute clarity. But right around the time of Purim and Chanukah, n’vuah ended and the world fell into darkness. What was the meaning behind this transition?
The first stage was a stage of seeing, where everything was clear and easy. Now, however, we live in a world of darkness, a world of hearing, where we need to choose to see past the surface, connect the pieces together and create that clarity ourselves. There were no open miracles on Purim; we had to connect the pieces together ourselves and see the miraculous within the natural to see Hashem within the world we live in. In the light, you can see; in the dark, all you can do is hear. You must pick up on every hint of clarity you receive, put the pieces together, and form the image in your mind while still walking in darkness.
When you see something, you experience it all at once; there’s no process, no surprises. When hearing, when taking a journey, there can be a long-winding path, twisting and turning in all directions, leading you on a seemingly endless quest. Then, at the very last moment, there can be a sudden revelation that retroactively changes your perspective on the entire journey! Like a twist-ending in a great story, the last turn can change the way you perceive the entire quest. This is the nature of the final g’ulah (redemption). When Mashiach comes, we will suddenly see how all of history was leading us toward our ultimate destination. This is why the end of days is compared to laughter: One laughs when there is a sudden change, and the destination one thought he or she was heading toward suddenly shifts into something completely unexpected.
Personal Megillah: “Hearing” in Our Own Lives
The same is true in our own lives. Sometimes, only by looking back and putting all the disparate pieces together can we finally see the beauty and hashgachah in events that occurred throughout our lives. Any individual moment of your life might seem meaningless, but held in context of your entire life, this moment suddenly shines with infinite brilliance, as it’s seen as integral and deeply meaningful; its true purpose and meaning becoming clearer. As we have mentioned before, this is why the baalei machashavah suggest writing your own personal “megillah,” keeping an account of events, experiences, and choices that occur throughout your life. Megillas Esther contains no open miracle, but when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together and read them in order, you clearly see the yad Hashem, how all the seemingly random events fit together so perfectly to create the hidden miracle of Purim. “Megillah” shares the same root as the words l’galgeil (to roll) and m’galeh (to reveal). When we roll through the scroll of the Megillah, we reveal the presence and hashgachah of Hashem.
The same is true for our own personal story. Each individual event or experience may seem insignificant and happenstance, but if we put all the pieces together, connecting the dots between the seemingly random events, we begin to see the beauty manifest in our own personal megillah. We can suddenly see the turning points in our lives; we retroactively perceive the life-changing decisions and events that until now seemed meaningless and random. Whether it was choosing a specific school, meeting a friend or spouse at a specific time, or visiting a certain place when we did, our past becomes a masterpiece, ready for us to admire and appreciate.
Olam HaBa vs. Olam HaZeh
The relationship between seeing and hearing also reflects the relationship between Olam HaBa (the World to Come) and Olam HaZeh (this world). This world is a place of movement and process, of change and growth, which reflects the process of hearing. In this world, you get to choose who you’ll become. Olam HaBa is the place of being, where you experience the ecstasy of everything you’ve built, and thus reflects the concept of seeing, static and unmoving. No longer can you move or become, but instead, you enjoy everything you created during your life in Olam HaZeh.
Weekday vs. Shabbos
Another manifestation of this principle is the relationship between Shabbos and the six days of the week. Throughout the week we build and grow, whereas on Shabbos we rest from creative activity, experiencing what we have accomplished during the week. This is why the Gemara says that Shabbos is “mei’ein Olam HaBa – a taste of the World to Come” (B’rachos 57b). Just as Olam HaBa is the place where we enjoy everything we have built in this world, Shabbos is the time where we enjoy everything we have built during the week.
This explains a seemingly strange pasuk regarding Matan Torah (the receiving of the Torah). The pasuk says that when Hashem gave us the Torah, “ro’im es ha’kolos,” we “saw the sounds” (Sh’mos 20:15). Of course, we don’t see sounds; we hear them. What, then, does this mean?
This world – Olam HaZeh – is a place of movement, a place of “hearing.” In this world, we build our “selves”: we learn, we work, we grow, we become. The spiritual realm – Olam HaBa – is devoid of movement. It is a place of static perfection, of “seeing,” of being. It is in Olam HaBa that we experience everything that we built and actualized while in Olam HaZeh. Matan Torah was an experience of Olam HaBa taking place within this world. At Matan Torah, we transcended the physical world of time and space; we all became prophets and experienced the infinite spiritual nature of reality. In such a dimension, there is no hearing or movement, only sight. Therefore, sounds weren’t heard; they were seen. Movement became static, becoming became being.
The Jewish Bamboo HisToREE
Our history is like the Chinese Bamboo Tree. This unique tree spends years in darkness, accomplishing what seems to be very little, lost in the void. Years go by, and all investment toward its growth appears to be in vain. Only with belief and undying trust can one get through this phase of darkness. Then, when all hope seems lost, it suddenly skyrockets toward its true, towering height – out in the light, for all to see. Only then, once it arrives at its full figure, does everything become clear. At that moment, one realizes that it didn’t take five months for the tree to grow; it took over five years.
The same is true with klal Yisrael; one day, we will see how centuries of tragedy were actually bringing us closer and closer to our ultimate destination. The same is true for each of us; we must be willing to listen in the dark, to see past the surface. We must ride the waves of hardship and challenge, recognizing them as opportunities to grow and not only as burdens. One day, we will see clearly, we will recognize the why behind every what. Until then, we must learn to listen, to believe, to have faith. For only one who listens will one day truly see.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: ShmuelReichman.com.