My grandfather, on one occasion when travelling from overseas, prepared for the conventional routine upon entering a new country; passing through immigration and customs. He noticed a conscientious officer was on duty, diligently inspecting everybody’s baggage as they crossed the border. When my grandfather’s turn arrived, the inspector, with a mere hand signal waved him through, without as much as a peek to the contents of his luggage.
“Don’t you want to check my bag?” asked my grandfather in a surprised tone of voice, not understanding his deserving preferential treatment.
“Sir,” answered the officer “We don’t check bags, we check faces.”
This is axiomatic.
Actions, thoughts and behavior are not isolated functions; on the contrary they reflect one another. An upstanding person who is scrupulous in his dealings will have the countenance and facial features to match his inner character; one’s moral fiber becomes etched in one’s physical makeup. Evil people will often have a contemptible bearing. True connoisseurs of body language can instantly detect frauds and smugglers by observing a glimmer of their gait and gestures.
It is not only in body language that character is echoed; similarly one’s spirit can be ascertained by the phrases, tones and inflections of verbal communication. Speech is an articulation of one’s thoughts and it naturally follows one’s manner of talking resonates and mirrors personal traits. Prime examples of this phenomenon are Yaakov and Esav.
The Torah tells us that the youths grew up. “Esau was a hunting man, a man of the field, whereas Yaakov was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.”
Esav, the hunting man, was a fabulous trapper. This can be ascertained, from his father’s later request to provide him a meal of freshly hunted game. This can be further adduced from his description as “a man of the field” which Rashi explains is “an idler who hunts beasts and birds with his bow”. Yet his prowess in archery and ambush was not limited to the art of stalking animals, “Esav kidnapped wives from their husbands and violated them” (26:34). Even to stop here would be to underestimate Esav’s ability at deception.
Rashi explains that this hunting man “knew how to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth”. The knack of subterfuge which Esav applied in securing the fleeing animal, carried over to all aspects of his life. This very trait found expression in verbal ensnaring, by trapping and fooling humans.
Yaakov manifests the same pattern and progression in another form. In stark contrast to the man of the field, Yaakov was a tent dweller, an indoors man not accustomed to hunting. This ‘tent dweller’ is further described as “an innocent man”, a person not astute in trickery as Rashi elucidates a man who spoke his heart. The lack of guile which crippled his ability to hunt and chase animals, exhibited itself in other ways too; there was no masking of his inner feelings “his heart, so was his mouth” (Rashi loc cit). The frankness and integrity of his emotions were undisguised. And for all eternity, the tent dweller Yaakov has been trademarked by this feature of honesty.
Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Solovetchik, the Brisker Rov, was once walking in the streets of Jerusalem together with a companion. There they encountered a man begging for alms who was vocally aggressive in his approach for Tzedoko. The Brisker Rov told his companion do not give him any money. Quoting from Proverbs, the Rov sourced his advice “A poor man speaks with supplications, but a rich man replies with arrogance” (18:23). If this person can speak condescendingly he surely isn’t destitute and therefore can only be masquerading as a pauper. There is no need to be charitable towards him.