"Do not turn to idols, and do not make for yourselves molten gods; I am G‑d." (Lev. 19:4)

Know, that when someone looks and gazes at someone else, it has an effect [on the person looking], for the soul itself goes out via the faculty of sight to look.

Although we are accustomed to think of sight as the eye's reaction to light waves that enter it, we are here bidden to conceive of sight as an outward projection of the soul, through the individual's eyes, to "grasp" the image of the object being looked at.

If the object being looked at is good, [its goodness] will cling [to the soul], and it will have a good effect on the one who sees it.

If you look at impure things, you will be adversely affected….

If, on the other hand, it is evil, [the one who sees it] will also take [some of its evil] and this will adversely affect his soul. This is the [mystical] meaning of this verse: "do not turn to idols" - lest "you make yourselves" into "molten gods"; if you look at impure things, you will be adversely affected and become like what you look at.

Similarly, it is [praiseworthy] to look at good things, as it is written: "And they gazed after Moses." [The people looked after him] because they could not gaze at his face, since he had spoken with G‑d face to face. They were, however, able to look at him from behind and benefit from so doing. This is similar to what we are told about Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who said that all that he learned from his teacher, Rabbi Meir, was because he looked at him from behind, and that he would have learned even more had he looked at him face to face. (Eruvin 13b)

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ("the Prince") was the spiritual leader of the Jewish people in the 2nd century who performed the monumental task of recording the Oral Torah in writing (as the Mishna). When he was studying under his teacher, Rabbi Meir, he sat in the rows of pupils behind him, rather than the rows facing him.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Ta'amei HaMitzvot and Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.