How many times do we look at something and then think to ourselves – I did not need to see that!? And you cannot erase that image anymore. In ancient Jewish thinking, our eyes illuminate what we see. They paint a reality and interpret everything we see in light of how things are conceived and understood deep inside of us. If we think something is unattractive, we look at it and it is not appealing to us and visa versa. Children interpret the world in their limited scope of knowledge and experience. In the same way, the condition of our inner being determines our perception. For this reason, the Psalmist says:
הַעֲבֵר עֵינַי מֵרְאוֹת שָׁוְא בִּדְרָכֶךָ חַיֵּנִי׃
(haaver eynay merot shav bidracheicha chaeyni)
“Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
and revive me in Your ways.” (Ps. 119:37 NASB)
Turning away from seeing vanity implies seeing something worthless or empty. The Hebrew word שָׁוְא (shav) indeed means “vanity.” This same word is in the 10 commandments, in which God’s name is not to be used “in vain.” But the translation “turn away” is weak if compared to what the Hebrew actually says. The original verb הַעֲבֵר (haaver) literally says, “make me to cross over” or “pass” or “go beyond.” It comes from עָבַר (avar), from the same root as the word “Hebrew” עִבְרִי (ivri) — as in the name of the people. To the nations, Hebrews are people who came or “crossed over from beyond” from “another side” of עֲבָרִים (avarim) – a mountain range beyond Jordan across from Jericho. And the psalmist is endeavoring to act like a true Hebrew and “cross over” with his eyes, to get away from looking at worthless things. But how can one do this? “God’s paths,” his “ways,” are the means by which the worshiper is transformed. The Hebrew text says חַיֵּנִי (chayeni) – literally “make me come alive” in your paths. God is the one who provides us with the means and the strength to cross over and get away from things we do not need to see.