Seeing it All

Part of a yearlong series on resilience in Jewish spiritual life.

I've heard it countless times, especially over the last few weeks: "Depending on where I look around me, I see either beauty or devastation, hope or despair."

True that: it's all there, all at the same time, especially nowadays. Some would say that where we choose to look, what we emphasize in our seeing and thinking, is our master key of resilience.

To me, however, resilience is less selective vision than collective vision. Resilience is less about narrowing our focus to what most pleases or eases us, and more about expanding our focus to see it all, hold it all, and live well in it all. This week's Torah double portion (Matot-Masei) proves the point. 

Depending on where I look, I can see either spiritual audacity in keeping vows (Num. 30:3), or ancient society's sexism in Torah treating male and female vows differently (Num. 30:4-16). I can see ancient Israelite violence and xenophobia (Num. 31:1-17), or attempted spiritualization of war booty (Num. 31:26-30). I can see selfish cowardice in peoples seeking to freeload on others, or wise practicality in treating differently situated peoples differently (Num. 32:1-9). I can see desert journeys delayed by repeated stops or made feasible by repeated stops (Num. 33:1-37). I can see in "refuge cities" either murderousness or wise compassion (Num. 35:9-34).

All of this and more in the same Torah portion. All of this and more in today's news, today's society, today's lives. It's a lot to see; sometimes, often, increasingly, it feels like too much.

When it's too much, narrowing focus can be natural, wise, healthy and necessary. Capacity to narrowcast is a tried and true resilience tool. But if we all narrowcast, there's no chance for seeing the whole, challenging our vision, or building our capacity. Often we'll choose to see only the world we want to see: consider how you tend to choose your news sources based on what you want to see and hear. It's a natural and comforting habit, but it's not a long-term strategy for living well together (political sociologists call it homophily) much less bridging gaps and solving conflicts. 

That's why the highest calling of spiritual resilience isn't to narrowcast but to broadcast. not to strategically see less but to courageously see more. We need to see it all – what pleases us and what displeases us, what comforts and what chides, what we can help heal and what we think we can't (yet). 

Only then can we cultivate the truest capacity not to shrink and shrivel from what we see. Only then can we truly help and heal. Only then can we truly be resilient – for ourselves, each other and a world that needs the widest possible vision of what the world still can be.

– Rabbi David Evan Markus