Looks Could Kill
How the Hebrew month of Tammuz parallels the faculty of sight.
The Sefer Yetzira, one of the oldest kabbalistic texts1, teaches that the month of Tammuz parallels the faculty of sight.2 The Arizal states further that the 12 tribes parallel the 12 months, with the tribe of Reuben3, whose Hebrew name comes from the root that means sight, corresponding to the month of Tammuz.4 To appreciate the special quality of Tammuz we need to understand the inner meaning of sight and how it impacts our lives.
Moses sent spies to scout out the land of Israel in preparation for the Jewish people to enter the land. The majority of their sojourn occurred during the month of Tammuz. The Sages taught that the counsel of the spies’ mouths preceded their seeing.5 They first advised each other that the Jews coming into Israel would cost them their positions of power that they held in the desert and subsequently everything they saw was interpreted to prevent that from happening. Their perverted sight ended up costing the Jewish people of their generation the opportunity to enter Israel, and earned them another 40 years in the desert.
When the spies entered Israel, Providence arranged that the inhabitants of the land should be busy burying their dead so that they would pay no attention to the spies. Instead of appreciating this Divine kindness, the spies concluded, “It is a land that consumes those who live in it.” The spies saw huge, beautiful fruit. Instead of commenting on the beauty and plenty of the land, they reported, “Just as its fruits are strange, so too are its inhabitants.”
The spies epitomized Milton’s famous words, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.”6 Their selfishness brought them to see everything backwards, making them ready to sacrifice the good of the entire nation for their own personal aims.
We are wherever our thoughts are. How we see and what we choose to focus on shapes the world we live in. It is possible for two people, standing next to each other to look at the same thing and to have completely different experiences. It all depends on what we see.
Looking at others with a “bad eye,” begrudging them any benefit, has a negative spiritual power.
King Solomon, the wisest of all men understood this well. He wrote, “The one with a good eye, he is blessed.” (Proverbs, 22:9). The Maharal of Prague explains that those who desire the wellbeing and benefit of others, and look at them from such a perspective, attach themselves to the source of blessing and are blessed.7
The converse is true as well. Looking at others with a “bad eye,” begrudging them any benefit, has a negative spiritual power which can actually be destructive. 8 For this reason, the Talmud prohibits one from standing in the field of another when the crop is fully-grown, lest they damage it with their destructive sight.9
Anyone can be disparaging. It takes no effort. A wise person, on the other hand, understands the value of training oneself to notice and speak of that which is good and praiseworthy.
It is no coincidence that the Holy Tablets were broken in the month of Tammuz. When the Torah was given to the Jewish people, they were one people with one heart.10 This was a necessary precondition for the giving of the Torah that parallels the heart of the Jewish people.11 Once our unity was lost, a casualty of begrudging eyes, so too the Holy Tablets became broken as well.
This Tammuz, let us take to heart not to be like the spies. Let us actively work on seeing the good and praiseworthy in those around us, wishing them every blessing in the world. With the power of such vision we can reconnect to the source of all blessing, returning to the unity and glory we once possessed as a nation.
- Attribute to the patriarch Abraham, and arranged in Mishnaic form by Rebbe Akiva
- The Sefer Yetzira teaches that each month has a particular human faculty that is its parallel.
- When Leah gave birth to her first son, she called him Reuven (whose root form is sight), saying, “God has seen my suffering.” (Genesis, 29:32)
- In a special ma’amar on the Sefer Yetzira
- Medrash Eicha, In Chapters 2,3, and 4, which are arranged alphabetically, the letter Pay (meaning mouth) precedes the letter ayin (meaning eye), which is out of order. This is indicative of the fault of the spies “who spoke before seeing.”
- John Milton, Paradise Lost
- Maharal, Nesiv Ayin Tov
- Maharal, ibid
- Talmud Bavli, Bava Basra, Ch. 1