The Magic Eye
The Thing Within The Thing
In the mid 1990’s, this craze took the country by storm. The books featured autostereograms which allow some people to see 3D images by focusing on 2D patterns. So instead of looking directly at an image, you're supposed to 'over diverge' your eyes, as if you're looking right through it.
To achieve this, you need to point your eyes at a spot beyond the main image. Some people can naturally do this while others could use the guides at the top of the page, indicating where they should look. And others, like myself, sucked at it. I hated Magic Eye books.
It was right in front of my face yet I could only see the surface level image and never unearth what was really behind it. The idea behind Magic Eye books had been around for awhile. It came out of research into human perception - specifically, the manner by which we take two separate images created by our two eyes, and combine them into one.
As my own research taught me, pupils in human eyes are typically around 66 millimeters apart, which means each eye gets a slightly different picture of whatever they're focusing on. It's your brain's job to immediately process these and combine them into two, so you don't walk around with constant double vision. Interestingly, it's the differences in the two original pictures that help your brain achieve the best approximation of what you're looking at - those differences add depth to the resulting image you perceive.
In other words, how we can recognize the difference in two images or scenarios can actually help us achieve greater clarity on what is in front of us. When we lose sight of that, or we’re too closely focused on one idea, then we can overload our ability to see, feel, or understand that very thing.
In Magic Eye books and in life, this is an important reminder. It’s also one we subtly receive in our portion this week, Devarim. As Moses begins his final speech to the people, he instructs them about God’s directive to choose leaders (1:14):
הָב֣וּ לָ֠כֶ֠ם אֲנָשִׁ֨ים חֲכָמִ֧ים וּנְבֹנִ֛ים וִידֻעִ֖ים לְשִׁבְטֵיכֶ֑ם וַאֲשִׂימֵ֖ם בְּרָאשֵׁיכֶֽם׃
Pick from each of your tribes candidates who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads.”
Only two verses later, Moses reflects on his choice of those leaders by declaring:
וָאֶקַּ֞ח אֶת־רָאשֵׁ֣י שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם אֲנָשִׁ֤ים חֲכָמִים֙ וִֽידֻעִ֔ים וָאֶתֵּ֥ן אוֹתָ֛ם רָאשִׁ֖ים עֲלֵיכֶ֑ם שָׂרֵ֨י אֲלָפִ֜ים וְשָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֗וֹת וְשָׂרֵ֤י חֲמִשִּׁים֙ וְשָׂרֵ֣י עֲשָׂרֹ֔ת וְשֹׁטְרִ֖ים לְשִׁבְטֵיכֶֽם׃
So I took your tribal leaders, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you: chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens, and officials for your tribes.
A close read of that text shows that there’s an attribute missing when Moses does his selection: וּנְבֹנִ֛ים-discerning. What happened? How did we go from the lofty trio to a meager duo?
Different answers are offered. Some say he tried to find it but couldn’t locate anyone who checked all the boxes. Others say the original list was aspirational but not meant as obligatory.
My favorite answer comes from Reb Shlomo Ha’kohen Rabinowicz, the Tiferet Shlomo, the first Rebbe of the Radomsk dynasty in 19th century Poland:
Having this comprehension-נבון is the ability to see the matter of a thing inside of that thing. This was particularly challenging to find in the generation of the desert which was a group that really only learned from the mouth of Moshe but lacked their own independent form of thinking.
That attribute that is missing נבון, also known as binah-discernment, is explained by the Talmud as the ability to see a thing inside of a thing. In other words, can you look at an image and realize there’s more going on beneath the surface. Thanks, Magic Eye.
In the eyes of the Tiferet Shlomo, this generation, which had left slavery behind never learned this skill because of their reliance on Moses. That was a necessary dynamic in the wilderness. Coming into their own now, they needed to find this anew. Unfortunately the old guard didn’t have it.
This lesson is spot on and timeless. So much leadership in our world today is lacking this ability to see a thing and recognize what’s actually going on. It’s a stuck in the past kind of thinking. It’s a mindset of scarcity and not abundance. It’s feeling defensive in opening yourself up to alternative ideas. It’s being afraid of failing and learning so we stick to the old ways.
It’s everywhere: politics, education, and faith organizations. I imagine whatever field you’re in, you see it as well. The antidote is teaching ourselves to be like Magic Eye readers.
See the thing in front of you. Don’t be too reactive. Understand that what’s different can actually give you clarity. Be calm and let your mind’s eye go beyond and see what’s really going on. When we do that, we prime our brains to be נבונים. Moses couldn’t find them, but we’re here now.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend