For twelve years, Rabbi David of Lelov fasted from one Sabbath to the next and subjected himself to all manner of spiritual disciplines. Yet he still felt that he had not attained the goal. Perplexed, he decided to go to the great Hasidic Master, Elimelech of Lizensk, to ask for advice.

On the eve of the Sabbath, he came before Rebbe Elimelech together with many other Hasidim. Rebbe Elimelech shook hands and greeted everyone warmly, except Rabbi David, whom he ignored and then turned away.

Appalled at this treatment, Rabbi David decided that the Rebbe must have mistaken him for somebody else. After the evening prayers, he once again approached Rebbe Elimelech with an outstretched hand, but he was treated in exactly the same manner.

Heartbroken, Rabbi David decided to leave Lizensk as soon as the Sabbath was over. He wept all through the night and all through the next day. As sunset approached and the sacred third meal began, he heard Rebbe Elimelech begin to speak.

“Sometimes”, he said, “people come to me who fast and torment themselves for twelve whole years! And after that, they consider themselves worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, and ask me to draw it down upon them. But the truth of the matter is that all their disciplines and all their pains are less than a drop in the sea. All that service of theirs does not rise to God, but to the idol of their pride. Such people must turn to God and begin to serve with a truthful heart.”

As he listened to the tzaddik’s words, Rabbi David was devastated. He spirit was so broken that he almost lost consciousness. He dragged himself to a window and stared blankly outside.

After the Sabbath was finished, he approached the door of Rebbe Elimelech’s study, and trembling with fear, stood on the threshold.

In an instance, Rebbe Elimelech rose from his chair and ran to embrace Rabbi David. “Blessed be he that comes!” he cried. Then he drew Rabbi David toward the table and seated him at his side.

Seeing this behavior, Rebbe Elimelech’s son Eleazar could no longer restrain himself. “Father”, he exclaimed, “this is the same man that you turned away twice because you could not endure the mere sight of him!”

“Not so!” Rebbe Elimelch answered. “That was an entirely different person! Don’t you see that this is our dear Rabbi David!”

We live in a world of appearances. We judge others, and they in turn judge us, by our external façade. We rarely see beyond the outer impression. We never look at what is happening inside.

The enlightened soul penetrates through this outer level of seeing. He interacts with the inner human being. He looks beyond the words and projections of the external personality to read the feelings in a person’s heart.

Sri Ramakrishna had an extraordinary capacity for seeing into a person’s inner world. He once remarked about a certain devotee:

“Everything inside him can be seen through his eyes, as one sees the objects in a room through a glass door.” [1]

On another occasion, a worldly man came to visit him who feigned a spiritual interest. After he left, Ramakrishna asked one of his disciples to sprinkle holy water from the Ganges River on the spot where he sat, declaring that the man’s negative emanation had permeated into the very ground. [2]

Another time, a famous musician came to perform at the temple complex where Sri Ramakrishna lived, but the saint got no enjoyment from his singing. Everyone was surprised to see this, as normally religious singing sent Ramakrishna into a state of profound ecstasy. Later it was discovered that the man led an immoral life, with a string of mistresses and a series of dubious business affairs. [3]

Saint Francis also had the ability to intuitively sense the spiritual state of the young men who came to him. A story is told of how a young nobleman from Lucca came weeping to Francis and asked to join the order. To the astonishment of the other brothers, Francis showed little sympathy to the new arrival, and at once began speaking to him severely:

“Your weeping is a lie!” He said, “your heart does not belong to God! Why do you lie to the Holy Ghost and to me?”

It soon became clear that the young man’s desire to join the Brotherhood was nothing more than a passing fancy that arose out of his unhappiness at home. When his parents arrived shortly thereafter to plead with him to return, the young man abandoned Saint Francis and the Brothers without a moment’s hesitation. [4]

Each of us has our own particular spiritual quality. This spiritual quality is created by everything that we think, say and do. Our thoughts, emotions and actions all have an effect on our spiritual centers or chakras. All of them affect the emanation from our sefirot.

The spiritually-evolved soul has a developed sensitivity to these energy emanations. He or she lives in a world of energies where every interaction is experienced as an energy exchange. Though he remains aware of the external personality, most of his attention is focused on the individual’s inner spiritual vibration. For him, this energetic emanation is the predominant reality.

When the three angels come to Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac and the destruction of Sodom, the Torah tells us: “And he (Abraham) lifted up his eyes and looked (vayerah), and, lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw (vayerah) them, he ran to meet them from the tent door and bowed himself to the ground…”

The Hasidic Master, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, asks: why does the Torah repeat the word ‘vayerah’ – ‘and he saw’ – twice in this sentence? Because, he answers, there is more than one level of seeing.

First, Abraham lifted up his eyes and just saw three men approaching his tent. This evoked no particular reaction from him. Then he looked again and “saw them” – that is, he experienced the great spiritual radiance that was emanating from the angels. He now recognized that they were not ordinary people. Therefore, he jumped up from his place and ran towards the angels, bowing down to the ground before them.

This insight of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak explains why an enlightened soul sometimes treats a seemingly great sinner with love and compassion, and a “proclaimed” saint with indifference or disdain. They look at the inner person and not the outer garment. They respond to the needs of the soul and not to the worldly reputation – the words and actions that are seen with physical eyes.

There is yet another level of spiritual perception that we can attain. On this level, we see everyone as our Self. There is a total bond, a perfect attunement – a fusion in consciousness with all that is. We identify with others in the same manner that we identify with our own limbs. We know others as intimately as we know ourselves.

This mode of “seeing” transcends the normal sensory cues that determine people’s relationships. In this state of awareness, the underlying reality of Pure Consciousness is the overriding perception. The whole of existence is experienced as one all-pervading unity.

This sublime state is beyond the reach of most of us. Yet even the knowledge that it exists is comforting and uplifting.  It encourages us to at least try to catch a glimpse of the higher reality. It inspires us to purify our hearts and raise our consciousness – to see the world with Divine vision on whatever level we can.


Copyright © 2013 by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. ‘M’, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  2. ‘M’, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  3.  ‘M’, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  4. Johannes Jorgenson, Saint Francis of Assisi