“The Blessing of Seeing and to Be Seen”
By Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Parashat Lech Lecha tells us that Sarah couldn’t bear a child so she had the idea that her servant Hagar would conceive a child with Abraham on her behalf. That was what happened. When Hagar was pregnant, Sarah treated her harshly and Hagar ran away from her.
When Hagar was in the desert, an angel of God found her and encouraged her to return with Sarah and Abraham and promised her great blessings for her future son. After listening to the angel, Hagar named God and said:
“You Are El-Roi,” by which she meant, “Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!” (Bereshit 15: 13)
“El-Roi” could be interpreted in many ways. Chumash Etz Chaym brings some of the ways to understand this name: “Literally, ‘God of seeing’, that is, the all- seeing God. Also, ‘God of my seeing’, that is, whom I have seen; and ‘God who sees me’.
Thus, we can interpret “El-Roi” in three different ways:
1) as a God who sees everything, even the suffering of a servant who was oppressed.
2) as Hagar seeing God, discovering Him in the desert.
3) as Hagar’s being seen by God. She called Him “the God who sees me.”
I would like to focus on the third possibility of God’s name, “the God who sees me”.
Hagar was treated harshly by Sarah; Hagar wasn’t seen by her. Her existence was not recognized and thus, “she ran away from her”.
This is the opposite of the way that God made Hagar feel. “El Roi” describes how Hagar felt having her existence recognized, with the sense of “there is value to my existence, my being.” There is someone looking at me.
Human beings need to be seen since their birth. If nobody looks at us, we could not exist. Psychoanalysis teaches us that the look of the Other conformed us as subjects.
In his seminar, “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis”, the French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan tells us about the look. During the development of the subject, the mother looks at her baby, and introduces the image of her own body as something unified. This baby becomes a subject, because there is someone who directs a loving look towards him. Then in the child there is a desire to be looked at, and then to look at himself.
I believe that not only babies need to be seen. Maybe you have watched recently a commercial promoting Cosentyx, a medicine that can help people with psoriasis. There you see different people, desperately asking, “see me.” They need to be seen despite their disease. They need to be seen as every human being does.
Recently I read a Spanish novel, Too shall pass written by Milena Busquets where the main character, Blanca, expresses her feelings and thoughts after the passing of her mother. This is one of her deep and painful emotions expressed about her mother:
“I will never be looked through your eyes again” …. “My place in the world was in your eyes.”
The main character is very sad because she will never be seen again by her mother. Also here we can appreciate the importance of being seen.
Nowadays, we spend more time looking at the screen of different electronic devices than the person who is beside us. It is becoming an obsession which prevents us from enjoying looking at our beloved ones, our children, grandchildren, spouses, friends, without the interference of the screens. We should see our beloved ones more often and notice that they are looking at us.
This week’s parashah teaches us about the importance of seeing and being seen. Hagar felt relieved from her suffering after she realized that God saw her which made her feel recognized.
Besides this, Hagar made a link between her being seen and her ability to see. As if to say: I am able to see after God has seen me. This experience of visibility, of having been seen, both defines how Hagar sees God and is connected to her being a seeing person.
Following these teachings, let us not lose the ability to see our beloved ones, and notice that we are seen by them. This is one of the keys which helps us to develop deep and strong relationships.
Let us enjoy the blessing of seeing our beloved ones, giving them confidence, love, and recognition just with our eyes and, be aware that we are seen by them.