Nothing to Declare


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. ‎


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