Power of Focus, 3D Hidden Images, Invisible Gorilla And The Beauty Of Our Soul [Parshat Terumah By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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And they shall make Me
a sanctuary and I will dwell 
in their midst — Ex 25:8

On Wednesday night and Thursday of this week we will abstain from food and drink for what is known as the Fast of Esther. Named after Queen Esther (of Purim story fame), the fast evokes memories of the actions of the Jews of ancient Persia, who, faced with a bloody battle to defend their lives, prepared with fasting and prayer. This biblical tradition of fasting before battle reminded the warriors that their salvation came not from their military prowess, but rather from their spiritual strength, their connection to G-d.

In the Megillah, which relates the Purim story, there is another fast, lasting three days. This fast was proposed by Esther, and applied to all the Jews of Shushan, the capital city. Esther herself fasted for those three days (which happened to fall on Pesach of that year), to gain G-d’s protection as she prepared to enter the Royal Chambers unannounced … an action potentially punishable by death.

The question is obvious: Surely Esther’s most persuasive attribute was her beauty — after all, the King had chosen her from his entire kingdom based solely on this quality. Would it not have been wiser for Esther to spend those three days pampering herself with beauty products to gain the King’s favour, rather than fasting? After fasting for three days she would have looked pale and weak, a far cry from the glamorous young woman who had stolen his heart!

Many of you may be familiar with “3D Hidden Images.”  These images appear to be simply repetitive patterns with no single object of interest, until you learn how to see the image within. To do this you need to refocus your eyes, so that instead of looking at the image, you are looking at a point behind the image. With a little practice you can train your eyes to focus slightly differently, and suddenly an amazing three dimensional image will appear out of the pattern, so clear that you feel you can touch it. (The image at the top of this page is an example, it contains an image of three interlocked rings.)

The image is there all along … we simply are used to focusing on a different aspect.

A similar idea is involved in what is known as the Invisible Gorilla test. In this selective attention test, observers are shown a video clip of people passing a basketball to one another in a small group. Some are dressed in black and some in white. The observer is given a task: Watch the short video clip and count how many times the white-clothed team pass the ball to one another. Almost all of those watching it notice nothing unusual in the clip, and simply report how many times they saw the ball being passed. They are amazed when the clip is replayed and they are asked to simply watch what happens without focusing anywhere specific. This time they see someone in a full gorilla suit walk into the room, straight through the very group they were staring at, and exit the other side. This is called selective attention — we see what we are trained to see, or what we focus on. In a similar test for radiologists, 83% failed to spot an image of a gorilla which had been inserted into a CT scan of a lung. They were looking for small traces of lung cancer, yet failed to spot a large image of a gorilla on the very same slide!

This is normal human behaviour. Our power to focus is useful, important and allows us not to get distracted by the occasional gorillas or elephants in the room as we go about our lives. Occasionally, however, we do need to refocus and look at the rest of the picture. Is there a gorilla in the room? Is there a beautiful image that we are not seeing?

Maybe now we can understand why Esther spent three days fasting as a preparation for her meeting with her husband, King Achashverosh. Esther understood that we cannot take life at face value. She knew that there is a deeper dimension to our lives, a G-dly dimension. Being beautiful on the outside made the King pay attention — being beautiful on the inside made the King of Kings pay attention too. What Esther needed for her people was a miracle: The royal decree had been signed, sealed and sent; it could never be revoked. To get that miracle Esther had to change focus, to look behind the scenes. She saw that only G-d could change the wheels set in motion, and to strengthen the spiritual connection to G-d, she had the people fast for three days, herself included. This made it clear that their salvation was to come from Above, not below.

In the Torah reading this week G-d tells the Jewish nation, “Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them.” Our Sages explain the unusual grammar (I will dwell in them) to mean that each and every one of us needs to become a sanctuary, to have within us a space where we let G-d in.

We do that by changing our focus, by training ourselves to look beyond the everyday routine of  life, the plane that we are used to focusing on … and to look a little deeper, a little further, to see the real beauty of the spirituality that lies within — our soul. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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