Parashat Pinhas

To See With The Heart

The daughters of Zelophchad teach us to see people not as objects in our lives but as subjects of their own lives.

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Remember, as a child, just how shocked you were to see a teacher or your rabbi in the supermarket? Suddenly it dawned on you that they had a life too, their existence served a larger purpose than simply their role in your life!

Or to take another example from the supermarket, I recall my shock the first time I saw a sticker from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) affixed to a flank steak in the frozen foods section. It said, "Meat stinks!" Since then I've seen others that point out that what is immaculately wrapped inside that cellophane is the carcass of a dead animal. But it is wrapped so beautifully that we don't even think that our dinner is a dead cow, or lamb, or chicken. Our eyes simply don't see.

People, scenery, and animals enter our worldview in terms of what function they can perform, rather than as human beings with feelings and problems and dreams, as living creatures, or as a magnificent natural treasure. Most of the time, we look but we don't really see.

The daughters of Zelophehad teach us an essential lesson for being fully human. They teach us the imperative of truly seeing--not only with our eyes, but with our minds and our hearts as well. They teach us not to turn away from the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, or members of other minorities. Rather than looking at people as objects, the Torah shows us--by way of example--that the constant struggle to be fully human is really the struggle to see all people as people. This Shabbat, and in the future, let us take up the gift of the daughters of Zelophehad. Let us teach ourselves to see.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.