The Torah reading called Re’eh begins with this word, a command to "look!" But what are we to look at? G‑d says: "Look [at the fact that] I present before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). But how do we look at a blessing and a curse? Normally, we hear a blessing and a curse.
...95% of the sensory cortex is used to process visual input...
Chassidic philosophy points out repeatedly that the power of seeing is much greater than the power of hearing. A well known statement in Judaism is "lo domeh shome’a l’ro’eh" / one who [only] hears is in not [in any way] comparable to one who sees." Science supports that view. I asked my ophthalmologist about the role of vision in the sensory cortex. (The sensory cortex is the part of the brain that processes input from all of our senses.) My doctor told me that 95% of the sensory cortex is used to process visual input, leaving only 5% for all the other senses combined!
Re’eh is one of the relatively few places in the Five Books of Moses that discusses the prophetic power of dreams (Deut. 13:2-6). A dream is a powerful instrument that can be a source of blessing or its opposite. The primary Talmudic discussion of dreams occurs in a chapter appropriately titled "One Who Sees"
According to the Talmud, dreams predict the future. Although, all dreams have meaningless elements (in the language of the Talmud, "all wheat contains some chaff"), nonetheless "a dream has 1/60th [the potency] of [actual] prophecy" (Berachot, chapter 9, 57b). Dreams have multiple meanings and predictions, all of which may come true.
What strikes me as most important about the Talmudic discussion is that we, as individuals, have an influence over our dreams and over the future. For example, a person may have a negative dream, that appears to predict some negative event in his future; nonetheless, he has the power to avert that negative consequence by engaging in a ritual called hatavat hakhalom," rectifying the dream" and by fasting.
But at a much more astonishing level, the Talmud says that the causative effect of the dream upon the future depends on the words used to interpret it. "All dreams follow the mouth." op. cit., bottom of 55b If we (or a professional dream interpreter) give the dream a positive interpretation, it is likely that a positive result will occur. And the opposite is true.
How can we understand this counterintuitive viewpoint? There are at least two levels of answer.
...Judaism says that the words we use...and the thoughts we engage in have a causative effect on the physical universe...
One is that Judaism says that the words we use (even we common people) and the thoughts we engage in have a causative effect on the physical universe. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, put it succinctly. He begins his book Likutei Diburim with a two word sentence: "machshavah mo'eles ,"—: "Thought helps" – thought can have a causative impact on the physical world."
A second level of answer is provided by hypnotically oriented psychotherapists. When we engage in imagination and fantasy, new neural pathways, new solutions to tasks, are created in the mind. This principle is currently used in a diverse range of applications, from training athletes to excel to mobilizing the immune systems of cancer patients.
A currently popular psychological/philosophical viewpoint, "Attraction Theory," says that if you think positive thoughts, you create a positive "energy" that draws positive events into your life. And, conversely,...
This theory parallels a traditional Chassidic Yiddish saying, "Tracht gutt, vet zein gutt", "if you think good thoughts your future will be good."
It would be absurd to interpret this principal as meaning that my own individual thoughts fully determine reality. There are other forces at play: material, cognitive, spiritual and Divine. A Holocaust can occur not because of our thoughts but in spite of our thoughts. Nonetheless, our thoughts are a potent force that influences the outcome.
One on the benefits of "dreaming" or fantasizing is that it stimulates and delights the largest and most creative part of our mind, the Unconscious. Once stimulated, the Unconscious will continue to engage in problem solving, without the person even being aware. Suddenly, the Unconscious pops up with an idea or solution. The analogy to physical exercise is that even after I exercise, my metabolism continues to burn calories at a higher rate, even when I am resting.
So, Re’eh emphasizes the issue of what we choose to see, because our visualizations powerfully determine whether we will elicit and hold on to the blessings available from G‑d or whether we elicit the opposite.
How do we apply all of the above to the question I raised about :a) the relationship between seeing and the blessings promised in the opening of Re’eh; and b) more specifically between seeing positively and marriage?
I advise clients to take the time to actively engage in positive daydreams about their marriage. Certainly, it is helpful for my clients to tell me about the positive (and not only the negative) aspects of their marriage. I think that anyone who is helping a couple should ask each spouse to talk about the good things in the marriage, whether from the distant past, or the present. Nonetheless, it is even more powerful for them to create visual images .For clients who have a good marriage, this activity should only enhance the marriage.
...what about people who are struggling in a difficult marriage?
But what about people who are struggling in a difficult marriage? Unfortunately, many such people have given up imagining or fantasizing what their marriage could be like if it were successful, or even remembering successful moments from the past. They avoid doing so, because doing so would add to their current pain and sense of loss.
So, in therapy I encourage them to do so, much as a physical therapist encourages a patient to move a painful, damaged limb. "What would you like your marriage to look like?" If you can at least imagine or remember a positive interaction with your spouse, you can generate a longing for improvement, a desire to create good will, and a possible plan of action that might convey a positive feeling to your spouse. Once a couple are so swallowed up by conflict t hat they cannot experience mutual good will, even in fantasy, there is no energy for positive movement.
One of the most respected researchers and writers about marriage is Dr. John Gottman. He says that a couple’s ability to remember the positive moments in their relationship is a primary predictor of whether the marriage will survive. "In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly...But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten for the worse."
This profound level is attained when they know and support each other’s dreams...
Gottman presents a second way in which a couple’s dreams and daydreams enrich and stabilize the marriage. "The happy couple understands that helping each other realize their dreams in one of the goals of marriage."(Ibid, p.220) That is, a marriage can go deeper than even one in which the couple love each other and are successful at their joint tasks (such as childrearing and livelihood). This profound level is attained when they know and support each other’s dreams, each other’s sense of the meaning of their life.
I suggest you take the time to engage in such positive "daydreams"; enjoy immersing yourself in them and watch for results. This simple act does not suddenly wash away all of the pain in the relationship, but it does "give peace a chance."
May it be that one result will be that as we fulfill G‑d’s dream of our living in marital harmony, He will fulfill our dream, and bring the Redemption, where we are promised that we will see "the world filled with the knowledge of G‑d."
By Yisroel Susskind Ph.D., Monsey, NY, August, 2011
[His thanks to Rabbi Moshe Liberow and Dr. Chaim Weissz”l of Monsey for their help with this article. An earlier, significantly longer version of this article (about 2,000 words rather than this article’s 1300) appeared several years ago on //chabad.org/721775]