Seeing is Believing. What About Hearing?

Here’s one you may not have thought of before (at least I hadn’t): Why do we make a Beracha in the morning over being able to see (“Pokeiach Ivrim”), but not over being able to hear? (Or smell?) “Mashmiah Charashim” (“Who causes the deaf to hear”) comes to mind as a plausible addition to the litany of thanks with which we begin our day.

I passed the question on to my 6th Graders, on an unplanned whim as we looked at the list of Birchot HaShachar together, and one student had a thought which, true or not, kept me thinking all weekend. I pose it here as a possibility, not as something that is definitively accurate or absolutely correct. Like it or not, it is likely to leave you thinking.

My student surmised that hearing and seeing are qualitatively different for the following important reason: we can only see things which Hashem has created, either wholly or in part. A car is something that is made of parts which, at their core, were created by Hashem. There is nothing truly new or original that we can create – anyone who has learned very much high school science would identify this principle as the Law of Conservation of Mass. The Law states, to put it Jewishly, that everything was put here by Hashem for us to tinker with as the basis for an ongoing construction and reconstruction of the world – the world is our limitless playroom full of Lego’s. All things we can see, ultimately, are from Him.

Hearing, this student attempted, is different in that sense from seeing. There are some sounds which Hashem gives us entirely as they are, ready to be enjoyed – wind, an ocean wave, birds flying overhead – and then there are many other sounds are manufactured by us without any preexisting parts. When a person talks, there was no precedent for those sounds, in whole or in any other form, in the history of the world; the speaking individual is essentially creating them from scratch. Maybe that is why Shemirat HaLashon, watching our speech, is so pivotal – and so difficult: Hashem, by His own choice, “outsourced” to us the awesome power to produce totally original speech, a power we do not have with respect to sight. And this is a power that we wield to our own benefit, or our own detriment. As the Gemara (along with the bulk of Jewish literature) makes clear, life and death are in the hand of the tongue.

Although we thank Hashem each morning for being able to see His creations – all of which, in some form, came directly from Him – our ability to hear is predicated in large part on decisions, positive and negative, which we ourselves make each day. As such, we could not truly thank Hashem for creating those sounds, being that, by His choice, it is we who create them. It is we who fill His wide earth with sounds, be they resplendent and resonant or displeasing and dissonant. That choice, as Hashem wills it, is in our hands.

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