Seeing Eye-to-Eye

Reading your rabbi’s observations about a baby’s behavior is probably going to be as incongruous as overhearing a cannibal enthusing about a veggie burger made of sweet potato, quinoa and black beans with a little creamy lime aioli drizzled on top. (Not sure what lime aioli is?  Me neither.)

Nonetheless, I must tell you of something I recently noticed in an extremely cute little one year-old.  While I was talking to him, his eyes were not on the only moving part of my face, my mouth.  Instead, he gazed into my eyes.  This made no sense to me because in general, babies’ eyes are drawn to movement.  Yet while I was talking to him, he watched my motionless eyes instead of my moving mouth.

I was so puzzled by this that I tested it on a few other pre-talking little toddlers and discovered they all had this disconcerting tendency.  I am obviously accustomed to adults looking into one another’s eyes. But babies?  It would make most sense to me if their eyes were drawn to the mouths of those talking to them. But if they are not going to be looking at the moving mouth, why are they looking at the eyes rather than the conspicuous nose or huge expanse of forehead?

Ancient Jewish wisdom might suggest an explanation.  In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for eye is AYIN while the word for mouth is PEH.  Those two words, AYIN and PEH are also the names of two consecutive letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the sixteenth and seventeenth letters, respectively.

ע     פ


There is no parallel in English since there is no generally accepted way of spelling a letter’s name.  The sixteenth letter, P, is just P rather than PEE (or PEIGH if you attended a prep school). The next letter is just Q and not QUEUE.  But in Hebrew, every letter has a name that is spelled in a specific way and has a meaning.

In the Hebrew alphabet, adjacent letters are spiritually connected. For instance, the first two letters, ALEF and BET spell out the Hebrew word for father. This reveals that fathers lead to the rest of the alphabet, in other words, literacy and communication is (perhaps counterintuitively) at risk if we eliminate fathers from society.

Similarly, AYIN (eye) and PEH (mouth) are linked by their adjacent positions in the alphabet.  What is more, since AYIN precedes PEH, we get the idea that eyes are vital to communication.  This is to say that we are being advised to look before we speak.

Of course, pausing and assessing a situation before speaking is important, but there’s an even more useful message.  We should look at the other person’s eyes even before he or she starts speaking.  Eyes telegraph a hint about the emotional flavor of the message the mouth is about to deliver.  In honest communication, the eyes and mouth deliver the same message.  But if the eyes hint callous ruthlessness and the mouth delivers friendly warmth, or the other way around, our emotional alarm bells start jangling.

This is one of the reasons that  in-person communication has not been obliterated by technology. Even Skype has a fatal flaw in that the two parties don’t look into each other’s eyes.  You see, the little camera lens is off to the side in the bezel surrounding the screen.  Yet, we all gaze at the picture of the person we’re talking to.  That means our Skype or FaceTime friends never see into our eyes and of course neither do we see into theirs.   Whether for business, friendship or romance, talking face-to-face adds a dimension to the relationship because of being able to look into eyes.

It turns out that even from a young age, our babies get this and though their eyes are normally attracted toward movement, in the case of communication, they know that the eyes come first.  They are listening to what your mouth says, but their little eyes are fixated upon your eyes.  It is from your eyes that they will know what you’re really feeling.   I don’t know who first coined the phrase, the eyes are the window into the soul, but it is pretty accurate.

In all interpersonal relations, whether in romance or business, what their mouth says is always important, but first notice what their eyes say.  


19 thoughts on “Seeing Eye-to-Eye”

  1. Wow!! Thanks, Rabbi Lapin! While raising my children I’d tell them (when they were telling a questionable story), “That’s not what your eyes are saying.” I must have been on the right track. Thanks again.

  2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Susan–
    I may be wrong but when I hear you say “newcomer to our family…” I hear ‘in-law’. I must tell you that in the Lapin family we have a probationary period for new sons in law or daughters in law. They are asked to listen but not talk for the first five years. We, who have been honing our family skills and fine tuning our Lapinitis abilities for so long do not need callow newcomers criticizing anything. No, their job is to listen and learn…then after the first sixty months, a hesitant, reverential, and diffident approach to entering the family conversations is appreciated. But criticism! So quickly? This I must discourage. Hope our little tribute to family harmony helps.
    Warmest wishes to all the family including the ‘in-laws’.

  3. Susan Gilliland

    This is a really timely message. My family and I are in a trip together and one new comer to our family pointed out a flaw she observed in our communication skills as a whole. At first, I bristled up at her comments, but your thought tool really convicted my actions. Can not wait to share with our family. Thank you again for your insight.

  4. Sorry Rabbi but I have to ask, so what were you saying to the babies?
    I would have to guess some Ancient Jewish Wisdom! Never to early!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Oh nothing much, Eric,
      just sharing how weird it is that the electromagnetic radiation of a stimulated object up at the high frequency end tends to the infinite. The toddlers all fixate on my eyes, and then inexplicably fall asleep. Actually, I have noticed a similar trend in adults when I share this exciting observation and I am studying the possibility that the dreaded tsetse fly and its associated disease of sleeping sickness has possibly infected my house and all visitors to it.
      Hard to be sure…

  5. Rabbi Lapin,
    Amazing insight. I have my gtandchildren with me this week. The youngest is 15 months old and when I told and play with him he definitely looms into my eyes and I his! Just yesterday I was wondering about this very subject and now it makes sense. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Marlin-
      enjoy the g’kids. There are many strange phenomena in life that we take for granted because of their familiarity to us. But when we stop to think and ask ourselves, why, much fun ensues. Needless to say, that is also how countless scientific discoveries like gravity and penicillin sprang from people with inquiring minds asking why.

  6. RABBI, I revere you teaching. I believe your quote relating to “eyes being the window to the soul” was first spoken by Jesus though not exactly in the same words. You will find them in the book of Matthew chapter 6,22-24. Ironivally yet another form of ancient Jewish wisdom. Here are the exact words.

    The eye is the lamp of the body. You draw light into your body through your eyes, and light shines out to the world through your eyes. So if your eye is well and shows you what is true, then your whole body will be filled with light. 23 But if your eye is clouded or evil, then your body will be filled with evil and dark clouds. And the darkness that takes over the body of a child of God who has gone astray—that is the deepest, darkest darkness there is.

  7. Rabbi Lapin,
    You are so very Divinely-led in your observances!! I know you must have hundreds of pages’ worth in your mind about Moses’ relationship to God when you wrote this piece. 🙂 Always LOVE to hear what is weighing on your spirit!!! You are full of tremendous foundation! And yes a big “sayonara” in my mind to the Facebook cabal – very detrimental to our innermost beings in my opinion. If you think about it, most people when they are bent over their smart phones and their “devices” (double meaning there of course), they look as though they are bowing in obeisance to an idol. A reverent culture with its heads bowed…focusing their eyes and souls on artificial techno!!! (No offense meant to those who use technology as a useful tool to their real, flesh-and-blood-and-breath of Life Divine lives!!!) Anyway, LOVE YOU (AND MRS. LAPIN TOO) VERY MUCH!!!!!

  8. Ildiko Kalcsics

    Very true, Rabbi Lapin. May I recommend to your attention a book written by Dr. Gabor Mate, a Jewish doctor and psychologist born in Hungary but living in Canada, who develops the idea of the eyes of primary caregivers (typically moms) providing the love that infants need for their psychological development. The book is titled “Scattered minds”, and is about ADD. The connection is that without the loving look of their moms, the “happiness hormones” dopamine and serotonine do not get produced in proper quantities in babies, and this, in turn, hinders the development of their brains. Namely, the functions of the front lobe to sort and classify information (for importance etc.). That means they get “lost in information”, and the lack of loving attention they get will eventually lead to lack of attention they will be able to provide.

  9. What you are saying is a major reason that those with Asperger’s Syndrome have a hard time being understood or believed by “normal” people. They often believe we are lying/exaggerating. It took me 40 years to figure this out, and how to steel myself to overcome the discomfort of one-on-one eye contact.

  10. When ever I had done something wrong (even as late as 12th grade) my parents,either one would say to me “look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t do that. GOD help me if I tried to lie about it. I get great insights from your messages and my wife and I really do appreciate both you a and Susan. God bless you and God bless Israel.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Brian–
      There is a skill to be learned in reading people’s eyes and it sounds as if your parents learned it well.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      I am sure you’ll enjoy it and derive real benefit from it, Ruth,

  11. Your observations from Ancient Hebrew Wisdom never cease to amaze. This in particular hits the spot because you stress in effect what I have tried to teach those in my life willing to listen: the phoniness of ‘friendships’ knit and configured by electronic artifice on various media. The day will come and may perhaps already have arrived, when the Masters of electronic ‘friendship’ will track, identify and one day shadow us based on our ‘friendships’ in their electronic networks.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear James–
      Indeed. To put it another way: One real flesh and blood customer is worth far more than 50 ‘friends’ on Facebook.

    2. James, I agree with you. And you would love to hear how I think this seems to “connect” all the way back to Tubal Cain. 🙂

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