Q. The Torah states that, V’chol ha’am ro’im et hakolot, “and all the people saw the thunder (literally, voices)”, that announced the Revelation at Sinai. But surely you hear thunder, you do not see it!?
A. The word ro’im is interesting. As in English, “to see” can be understood on two levels. You see something physical with your eyes; but you also perceive with your mind’s eye (that’s what we mean when we say, “I see your point”).
Using “to see” in relation to the thunder indicates that the people had a perception of the overwhelming experience of the moment. The Midrash Tanchuma remarks that each Israelite perceived the occasion according to his or her own capacity.
We can find an analogy in another Midrash, this time on the story of the binding of Isaac. Approaching Mount Moriah, Abraham asked his servants, “What do you see?” They answered, “A nondescript hill!” What Abraham himself saw, however, was “a magnificent mountain with a cloud entwined about its summit”.
He perceived the spiritual possibilities of what lay ahead; the servants did not have a poetic soul and could see only the banal. Which is why they were left behind with the animals, whilst Abraham and Isaac ventured forward to follow the word of God.
At Sinai there were those who were rather unmoved by the whole experience. They had limited ability to perceive.
There are people like them in modern Judaism too, who cannot see the majesty, the magnificence, the inspiration and fascination of the Torah. Our task as people whose spiritual perception is greater is to share our insights with them and hope that they too, in the Psalmist’s words, will “taste and see that the Lord is good”.