Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 62 - Rabbi Elhanan Miller

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

During this turbulent period in the history of our country, I am reminded of a famous verse from the Book of Proverbs 27, 19: “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart”.

The syntax of this verse is strange. What is the meaning of the words: “As water reflects the face”? Does one person's look on the other's face resemble water? 

This question was rephrased by Rabbi Hanina in the Midrash for the Book of Proverbs: “Does water have a face?! What are those waters? A person looks into a vessel and it reflects his face, in the same way ‘one’s life reflects heart’.

It is easy for us to recognize our face in a reflection in a puddle or a lake. It is clear to us that the image we look at is ours. It is much more difficult to recognize the heart of a person standing in front of us as our heart, when we protest against something; and he's on the other side of the divide. However, if we look at the values that stand at the heart of our protest, or at the pains that motivate us to protest, we might find a lot in common. 

The French Jewish Philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, dealt extensively with the question of "the other" and his attitude toward us. Levinas criticized western philosophy for trying to blur the other's otherness and make him part of us. Levinas saw it as a form of violence, and called to accept the otherness of others and by doing that, leave them different and incomprehensible. If we adopt this opinion, we will understand that the reflection of our faces in the water is not comparable to the relationship between two different people's hearts. We can try to identify with the other, but they will always remain beyond our reach and understanding.

In the Jewish tradition, seeing one’s face is a very intimate act. Moses asked to see God’s “Glory”. God agreed with a reservation: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live”. And three verses later: “Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33).

The challenge we face as we approach the celebrations of Israel's 75th birthday is to imagine the heart of others and treat them gently, with compassion, as if it was our own heart.


Rabbi Elhanan Miller

Rabbi Elhanan Miller is the founder of “The People of the Book”, which aims to educate the Arab world on issues of Jewish culture and religion. Elhanan is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a teacher of Torah at the “Pardes” Institute. Holds an MA in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University and a Rabbinic Ordination from Beit Midrash “Harel”.

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