• IOWA Project

Perceiving more clearly in Tammuz


Graphic that shows the text 'Iyar 5781' on top of a photo of wheat and barley. The IOWA logo is on the right side.

This blog will focus on the spiritual practice of ראיה /r’eeyah or ‘seeing’, a central discipline of this new month of Tammuz. At IOWA, we understand this practice of ‘seeing’ to be about perceiving and understanding. Our various perceptions of the struggles taking place right now challenges us as a community; the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the continued oppression of black and brown folks in our community and beyond, the very real threat of antisemitism, and more. I believe that the spiritual practice of seeing, perceiving and understanding clearly is central to this moment, especially as we emerge from the global pandemic, a time that has separated us from one another for far too long.


The Chassidic tradition may give primacy to sight / perception in Tammuz because this is the month that Moses sent the 12 spies to gather intelligence about the Land of Israel (Numbers 13). Their journey lasted 40 days, ending on the 9th of Av. After their ill-fated mission ended in disaster and the Israelites were destined to wander in the desert for 40 years, the Torah advises us not to “follow after your heart or your eyes after which you stray.” (Numbers 15:39). Rashi (c. 1100) explains that the eyes perceive and the heart desires after the object. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that the verse actually says the opposite of Rashi’s interpretation. It is indeed the heart that comes first and influences how we understand. This is an insight common to much contemporary neurological and social psychological research - how we perceive is filtered through how we feel about things. Our emotions and prior experiences play a huge role in determining what we see and how we interpret this data.


It can be hard for us to see our own power accurately in the current moment when holding unhealed trauma in our bodies.

Trauma healer and teacher, Jo Kent Katz addresses this phenomenon of seeing in a recent Moment magazine interview. Kent Katz describes how trauma, including historic, ancestral trauma distorts how we see and understand the world around us. Past traumatic experiences can give us a heightened, and distorted, sense of danger and threat. It can be hard for us to see our own power accurately in the current moment when holding unhealed trauma in our bodies. All of us have these distortions that prevent us from seeing clearly.


Kent Katz offers several directions for processing ancestral trauma and seeing more clearly. These include understanding the sources of these traumas and accessing emotional and physical release. I highly recommend reading this interview and visiting her website on Transcending Jewish Trauma. Mussar master Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe offers another way to see more clearly: cultivate a perspective of closeness. Revisiting the Spies incident mentioned above, Rabbi Wolbe teaches that this perspective of closeness, what he calls a Matzav of Kirva, was the main difference between the two spies who encouraged entering the land and the ten who discouraged it out of fear. Rabbi Wolbe is talking about a sense of closeness with God, but I think this approach can also work by cultivating closeness with others. We know from trauma therapy that having someone in close, witnessing and “being with” during the process is so central for the healing. When we can really feel closeness, whether with God or others, it impacts how we see.


When we can really feel closeness, whether with God or others, it impacts how we see.

This seems to me to be the thing to do in this moment. We will repair our vision in relationship. Courageously speak your truth IN relationship, without backing away, whether as allies to Israelis and Palestinians, whether fighting anti-Semitism, or whether working for racial justice. As we emerge from COVID and restart society, we need to put into practice what many of us learned over the past year about centering the voices of marginalized people - in how we restructure everything from our health care to our infrastructure to education to policing. Staying close with people from the margins as we repair what is so clearly broken.


Our 40 Days of Teshuva films seeks to do just that - to center the voices of Black Jews and other people of color, while centering spiritual practice - as a Jewish spiritual response to racial injustice. These spiritual tools of prayer and teshuva can help build closeness and new ways of seeing and understanding. As a community, we need to continue showing up for racial justice and black liberation; the more we work towards that, the clearer we’ll be able to see. We invite you to see the film, process the issues it raises and stay close while we all get better at perceiving the reality before us.


Watch the trailer here, and go to our website to learn more about hosting a screening.


Chodesh tov,

David