Shaarei Shamayim

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TOLEDOT 5779

TOLEDOT 5779

A recent article on TheRinger.com titled “Is the Era of Voice Texting Upon Us?” describes how voice texting—leaving a short voice message rather than typing a text message—is becoming more prevalent. Some millennials have vowed refusal to listen or respond to voice texts calling them “sneaky voicemail” and disruptive to listen to while working rather than quickly reading a text. One person said, “If I ask you a question in text and you say back, ‘Yep,’ instead of just typing it, it makes me [really annoyed]. One-word voice memos should be a felony!”

Others value these voice texts for they can be better understood with an audio message. As the article states, “There is so much nuance of human language lost in texting…with voice note, it’s all out there, your tone, your mood, [as well as] your words.” What do you think? Is there value in voice texting?

In today’s Torah portion, Rebecca overhears Isaac telling their older son Esav to hunt for venison to prepare a special meal for them where he will bless him. Rebecca understands that Esav is not the proper candidate to receive the blessing which will make him the spiritual head of the family, but Jacob, their other son is. So she dresses Jacob up as his brother, covers his arms with goat skins to mimic his hairy brother and sends him in to receive the blessing. They think the ruse might work because 1. Isaac has lost a good deal of his eyesight in his old age and 2. because Isaac and Esav are twins and so their voices are similar. 

But when Jacob approaches Isaac for the blessing Isaac senses something is off and says (Gen. 27:22): Hakol kol Yaakov v’hayadayim y’dey Eysav (the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are like those of Esav). What was it about Jacob’s voice that made his father suspicious?

Rashi famously answers that the way he spoke sounded like Jacob who speaks calmly and politely. This is in contrast to Esav’s harsh and grating speech. But how could it be that Isaac didn’t know the voice of his own son. Every person has a unique voice identity, similar to a finger print. Science now uses voice-recognition software for security purposes because everyone’s voice is unique. Certainly Isaac should have known which of his sons this was?!

The Ramban explains that as identical twins, Jacob and Esav had identical voices that sounded exactly the same! If you think this is a bit farfetched, a reporter for the BBC—Dan Simmons—proved this point by having his twin brother Joe test HSBC Bank’s voice recognition software. The bank said it was secure because of each person’s unique voice pattern. But Joe successfully bypassed the security, accessing his brother’s bank account with his voice.

Perhaps this explains why Rashi inferred that kol Yaakov (the voice of Jacob) here is describing the way he spoke—the intonation of the words and not the actual voice. And so if the words being spoken were soft like Jacob and not like Esav, why did Isaac proceed to bless him? It’s like claiming you won the recent $1.6 billion Mega Millions lottery but lost the winning ticket. You might be the real winner but you’ll never get the money without the ticket. So why did Isaac essentially do that?

Furthermore, when the real Esav comes for his blessing shortly after and hears that Jacob has already received the blessing, Esav screams bitterly to his father (Gen. 27:34,38): “Bless me also my father!” After demurring for a moment Esav pleads a 2nd time: “Have you only one blessing father, bless me too.” In other words, “Isn’t there anything you can do?” At that point the Torah tells us, “Esav lifts his voice and cries.” Isaac, perhaps feeling guilty, then gives him a blessing as well—this one more materialistic and befitting Esav. But why didn’t Isaac agree to give Esav a consolation blessing the 1st time he cried out? Was it Esav’s dogged persistence that wore Isaac down or something deeper?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller Blink, he notes research done by Wendy Levinson, who wanted to understand why do certain doctors get sued more than others? She listened to hundreds of conversations between doctors and their patients, half of whom had never been sued and the other half had been sued at least twice. She found that just by listening to these conversations she was able to predict which doctor had been sued. There was no real difference in the words the doctors used or in their medical skills. So what was the determining factor?

It was in how they spoke to their patients. Was it calmly or abrasively? With empathy and attentiveness or cold and disinterested? Psychologist Nalini Ambady went even further. She took those same conversation recordings and removed the high frequency sound from speech that forms the words, leaving only intonation, pitch and rhythm. She could still predict which doctors were those that had been sued—all based on how they spoke. Amazing! All this confirms the words of King Solomon in Kohelet: “The words of the wise are accepted when spoken gently.”

Isaac had felt Jacob’s hands and it felt like his hairy brother Esav, but when he heard the voice, he wasn’t so sure. The Kli Yakar, in his commentary, maintains that Isaac was giving Esav the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps Esav finally recognized that he had to start speaking in a softer and more pleasant way to show his father he was worthy of the blessing he was to receive. We always hope for our children to prove us right. Mature parents usually try to judge in their children’s favor optimistically. Perhaps this is what was going through Isaac’s mind, and once he saw that it was possible that Esav could speak so pleasantly, he blessed him with a full heart.

Perhaps this also answers why Isaac didn’t give Esav the material consolation blessing the 1st time he cried. If we listen carefully, the 1st time Esav cries out the Torah uses the word Vayitzak, which is more of a shouting, a primordial scream. The language sounds rough.

The 2nd time Esav cries the text reads: Vayisa et kolo vayeyvk (And he lifted his voice and cried). Vayeyvk (cried) is more subservient or docile—like the cry of a baby. Even the statement preceding it is toned down: Havracha achat hi lach avi? Barcheyni gam ani avi (Do you only have one blessing father? Bless me also my father). It’s no longer a demanding statement but rather a desperate question. It’s the same words—“bless me also father”—but this time those words are choked with Esav’s sobs. It sounds different. And this time the focus is on his kol—on how his voice sounds. 

And the Kedushas Levi, in his commentary, suggests that this lifting up of his voice was a metaphysical and perhaps even emotional elevation. Esav recognized the importance of his kol, his voice. And only when Isaac see’s that Esav—the real Esav—deep down understands the importance of speaking sincerely, pleasantly, and humanely with others, then he was able to bless Esav.

So do you now see the value for voice texting? Maybe not always, but sometimes hearing the voice is important, to give meaning to the words…and the meaning behind the words may be more significant than the words themselves.

 My friends, as we conclude this contentious election period this week with the midterm elections, we must keep this message in mind. Regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, or whether your party won by winning the House or by keeping the Senate. We must continue to speak civilly one to another, and even more than the words spoken, speak in a respectful tone, which seems to have become a thing of the past.

As we voted this week to elect our leaders, let us all exercise our democratic voice to elect for empathetic and caring speech, and sensitive and thoughtful posts on social media and in person, at work and in social settings. Let our voices not scream out derisively at others, but rather cry sympathetically at the pain of others. And let us be worthy of the blessings of Isaac with our voices ringing out in a strong yet pleasant way. And to that let us all say, Amen!

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