By: Ron Finkelstein
Imagine a blind man, who was never able to see. Today, though, was different. The world that had been hidden from him for so long was finally being revealed. The scissors gently cut around the gauze that covered his eyes in a slow, methodical motion, as his family gathered around with bated breath while the doctors convened with clinical curiosity.
How will he respond to this new experience of being able to see after so many years of blindness?
The bandages come off, and then – flash! Images of color and shapes appear before him. It is difficult to make it all out. It isn’t until the doctor says, “Well?” that he even realized that what he saw before him was a face.
From the moment he left the doctor’s office, a new reality set in. It is not what he thought it would be; it is confusing and frightening. The images have no connection or resemblance to what he had pictured throughout his life. He does not trust what he sees, he feels disoriented, and everything becomes intimidating and uncertain. Day by day, he feels more and more overwhelmed, he begins to break down, feeling trapped in this new but strange world of sight. Ultimately he becomes vulnerable, falling into helplessness and despair from this demoralized state. Then, finally, a release comes – his eyes give in, and revert back to what they were before. His sight is gone, but now, finally, he is able to truly see again.
What we outwardly see can blind our spiritual perception. In our current day and age, images constantly infiltrate the gates of our eyes. The endless barrage of images pulls at our psyche, sinks into our subconscious, and manifests itself in our perspective on life.
Windows of the Soul by Rabbi Zvi Miller outlines the challenges and threats that a Jew invariably faces in a world that keeps pushing the lines of brazenness. It focuses on what our eyes see, how it affects us, and what we, as Jewish people, can do about it.
The idea to write this type of book was conceived when Rabbi Miller was approached by Mr. David Ashear about an ongoing problem that so many Orthodox Jews face, but no one really discusses: protecting one’s eyes. Rabbi Miller vividly remembers the day when Mr. Ashear asked to speak with him and said, “Rabbi, we are Jewish men and women which are constantly faced with provocative media, improper dress, and illicit images. I was recently shocked to discover a business associate of mine with whom I exchanged divrei Torah fall into the grasps of the yesser hara. Afterwards, I told myself that none of us are better than him, each of us has a yesser hara; the question is: do we have the tools to fight it effectively?”
Rabbi Miller, who descends from a long line of rabbis from Kovno, Lithuania, one of the main hubs of character refinement and the home of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), the father of the Mussar movement, was intrigued. After checking the local Judaic bookstores, they found that no English book offered sufficient treatment of this topic. What they needed was a contemporary guide that would delineate the real life encounters one can expect and what he can do about it. Mr. Ashear presented Rabbi Miller a list that he constructed of more than 50 points, outlining a strategy from Torah study and prayer, to work environments and preemptive measures to deal with this issue. It was this list that became the blueprint of the book.
Rabbi Miller started writing.
In Windows of the Soul, Rabbi Miller paints for us the realities that one can face both externally and internally that may turn him away from his spiritual goals. For example, what does one do when he is out in the business world and has to interact with someone immodestly dressed? What about the challenge of improper thoughts that one simply cannot control? Desire has the capacity to distort one’s reasoning. How does one avoid this danger? Windows of the Soul provides guidance by presenting preemptive measures for dealing with these and all sorts of other challenges. It advises how one should train himself to lower his gaze in order to shield his eyes from someone immodestly dressed, and how one can avoid improper thoughts by remembering that he is part of a holy nation and by learning Torah. The book focuses on the awareness of Hashem within our lives as a way of protecting our reasoning from being distorted. The book is also helpful for women, making them cognizant of how they are seen and what they themselves see. It gives them a deeper sensitivity toward what their brothers, sons, and – especially – their husbands have to deal with.
Initially, 3,000 copies of the book were published, 2500 of which were distributed free of charge to local synagogues to be given out to their members, and 500 of which were sold in stores. Within two weeks, all the copies were gone. Now there are plans to print close to 10,000 books, with an immediate printing of 2,200 copies to be distributed in Panama, the Persian communities both in Los Angeles and Long Island, the Ashkenazic community of Long Island and the Sephardic communities in Aventura, Florida, Brooklyn and New Jersey. The book will eventually be translated into Spanish and Hebrew with the intent of being distributed globally. An email campaign and newsletter are being formed to help strengthen the tools learned. Each chapter takes only approximately five minutes to study, and the material is segmented into thirty daily plans. A joint, daily program is currently being organized whereby participants learn the book for five minutes after the morning prayers over the course of a month .
Why is it that what we see is so consequential to our spiritual condition? If my eyes are just seeing an image, it doesn’t mean that I am actually acting on any of it. Why should I protect what my eyes see?
Indeed, for many of us, the thought of protecting our eyes may not really seem so important. For others it may even sound extreme. “I am living in today’s world,” some would say. “I need to see what is going on.”
A Manhattan business man aptly answered these questions in a conversation with Rabbi Miller. “After you gave me the manuscript for this book,” he told the rabbi, “I left it in my office where a non-Jewish colleague picked it up. He read it and then relayed to me, ‘You have no idea how important this book is. Human psychology has demonstrated that whatever we see, gets imprinted on the brain, it affects us.’” Clearly one need not be religious – or even Jewish – to recognize this basic fact of human nature. Whatever we see leaves its mark on our minds, it will resonate within us, affect us, and influence us. When we view an object, it is stored away in our brain’s filing cabinet. At any time, our mind can extract it for use, pulling it out from the memory bank of stored images. The externalities with which we come into contact become internalized, permanently stored within us and – whether consciously or subconsciously – ultimately exert influence upon us.
As Rabbi Miller poignantly remarked, “Either you control your eyes, or your eyes will control you.”
One of the most startling episodes related in the book is the story of a typical, observant couple, which clearly shows how the eyes can play an important role in steering us away from our core values. Shortly after they were married, Gail discovered that her husband, Mike, was viewing improper websites. Revolted by this behavior, which strained their relationship, Gail sought couple’s counseling. Though it seemed that the behavior was new, the counseling was ultimately ineffective since there was no indication that Mike had stopped. Matters further deteriorated as Mike stopped going to shul, showed little interest in maintaining the sanctity of the home, and did not participate in their children’s Torah education. The family was falling apart, Mike and Gail were no longer compatible, and the children were suffering from Mike’s negative influence. Not long after, Mike and Gail were divorced. Reflecting on the experience, Gail is convinced that the sordid elements of the Internet were the primary catalysts that led to Mike losing his way and the eventual breakdown of their marriage.
Rabbi Miller explains, “The internet is the single most dangerous place for a man’s soul, maybe in the history of the world. In the privacy of one’s home, a person has unlimited access to impure and detrimental images. This has caused the spiritual downfall of many people, and no person should trust his own sensibilities to protect himself from viewing improper sites through the net.” The story of Mike and Gail demonstrates just how far one can be led down the road of pollution and ruin as a result of constant exposure to improper sights.
As Rabbi Miller further conveys, “Spiritual thoughts cannot coexist with improper images – it is the waters of indecency being poured on the fire of the soul.”
When considering this book, we need to ask: How do we view ourselves? The way we answer this question will explain why we must protect what we see. The answer is the cornerstone of our faith and it allows us to save our family from being washed away in the waters of culture and fads. More importantly, it allows our children to be saved from losing themselves. Our true response will not be found so much in the confines of the mind, but will rather be discovered through the introspection of the eye. We do not only see things in the world as they are – we see them for who we are.
Our mission is touse our power of choice to win the war of sanctity over desire. The world imbues into our minds the constant need to see everything. It tells us that we are not keeping up with the times, that it is all innocent fun, and that our spirituality makes us too insular. It lures us to open our eyes to all of our surroundings – much of which are very far from Jewish principles. It is not what our souls thought our lives would be; for our spiritual being it is confusing and frightening. If we continue along the path of life, ignoring the seeds of immorality planted in our spirit, then the flashes from the provocative images of color and shapes that appear before us distorts that which our souls know to be true. It can overwhelm us, breaking down our spiritual will day by day, trapping us in this tempting but ignoble world of uninhibited sights. The more improper sights we take in, the more we become vulnerable, falling into helplessness and despair – this is not what our souls wanted. In essence, we can become slaves to the disorder that our eyes have seen, locked in and unable to set ourselves free. Our lives then become closed to our spiritual objective, suppressing any feelings of shame or guilt over our inappropriate actions, removing Hashem and His commandments and replacing them with deception and mirages. Left as a lifeless shell, the victim of unrestrained sight is rendered void of his native spiritual beauty, his eternity destroyed.
Rabbi Miller says, “We all need to remember who we are.” We are the children of Avraham, Yizhak and Yaakov. We are Hashem’s holy nation. What we need to do is surround ourselves and our families as best we can with a positive Jewish environment. We are each born with the special spirit of a Jew, and we must therefore utilize our time here to safeguard our sacredness through Torah and missvot. We must protect ourselves from absorbing images that compromise our inner purity. We must be aware that what we see with our eyes can blind us to who we are as the Jewish People. We must protect our eyes, preserve our sanctity, as only then will we be able to truly see again through the windows of our souls.
To order more books or to help sponsor more printings call David Ashear at 646-244-3926 or email@example.com or Rabbi Zvi Miller at 011-972-999-4471 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
An Excerpt from Windows of the Soul
Provide a Spiritual Inheritance for Your Children
Is there anything more beautiful than sitting with your family at the Shabbat table and discussing Parshat HaShavuah? Each one of us wants to see the continuity of a Torah lifestyle in our children. While there are many factors that contribute to their spiritual wellbeing, much of the results depend on our own level of commitment.
Numerous Torah sources attest to the remarkable mechanism that Hashem implemented in this world – the fact that children benefit spiritually from the actions of their parents. Think of it as spiritual DNA.
How does this mechanism work? In Mishlei (20:7) it is recorded, “The saddik walks in his perfection – happy are the children after him.” The meaning of the phrase, “The saddik walks in his perfection” means that the saddik worked hard to fulfill a missvah or to develop a worthy character trait. As a result, Hashem will bless his children so that they can reach that level with much less effort.Their father made the spiritual breakthrough for them,so “happy are the children after him.”
The more we dedicate ourselves to Torah observance, the more we enhance the kedushah of our children. Conversely, if we allow our Torah observance to weaken, we diminish our children’s spiritual resilience.
Physical traits are transmitted to the child from his inception by DNA coding. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes in his Michtav M’Eliyahu, that spiritual traits are transmitted both in the womb as well as after the child is born. If a parent achieves a particular character virtue – even after the child is born – this good trait will be transmitted to the child. It will be easier for the child to master his nature regarding that same challenge. One of the most powerful ways to guarantee that your children follow a lifestyle of missvot is to strengthen your own commitment. When you develop control over your eyes, you are helping to build the spiritual foundation of your children.
This is easier said than done, to be sure. As discussed in earlier chapters, the internet poses a particular challenge, one that our parents didn’t have. The fact that it is so useful is partly what makes it so dangerous. Our children find themselves in the middle of a great spiritual tug-of-war, where countless mesmerizing and pervasive negative attractions flash in front of them. With one click, they could begin a downward spiral that eventually will lead them far away from Torah values.
They need your protection!
Today: Help your children and future generations by controlling your eyes. Grant them “a spiritual inheritance” empowering them with the capability to preserve the well-being of their souls.
A free PDF of the book can be downloaded from the website www.koshereyes.com.