Tears that Unveil
Deep down, deep down inside, the eye would be destined not to see but to weep. For at the very moment they veil sight, tears would unveil what is proper to the eye.
—Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind (126)
“And God became seen before him… and he lifted up his eyes and saw…” (Gen. 18:1-2). Our parashah begins with a visual encounter; God appears and Abraham sees. The motif of sight subtly underscores this week’s reading: Abraham asks his visitors if he has found grace in their eyes (18:3), Lot sees two angelic visitors (19:2) and suggests that he has found favor in their eyes (19:19), and Abraham lifts up his eyes to see the ram that will take the place of his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
However, the visual witnessing we find in these rich chapters is not always so uplifting. The men of Sodom who seek to sexually harass Lot’s visitors are struck with blindness (19:11). Lot’s wife looks back upon the destruction of her home and is transformed into a pillar of salt (19:26). Sarah saw something displeasing about Ishmael, forcing Abraham to banish him and his mother. And finally, Abraham lifted his eyes to see the place where he would have to kill his own son (22:4).
In these biblical moments of attempted assault, destruction, hatred, and death, the text conceals the pain felt by these biblical characters. But we feel the presence of their veiled tears concealed behind the words. Their silent weeping reverberates with us as we look around at the darkness of our own times. Hatred, violence, and death are no strangers for many of us. Yet these stories also tell of how these figures endured. Lot and his daughters continue on after the destruction of their home, Hagar and Ishmael survive in the wilderness, and both Abraham and Isaac return home together. Perhaps we too can allow our tears not to blind us, but to clear our vision to see the possibility of building a better world.