Communication occurs in many ways.
While most of us tend to think of communication simply in terms of spoken words and concepts, there’s much more. Non-verbal communicators such as one’s posture, facial expressions, pace, pitch and volume often convey more than the spoken message. These factors often betray that which lies beneath what one wishes to convey on the surface.
Whether one is a judge in the courtroom, or a parent hearing out a child, it is worthwhile to educate oneself in the art of tuning in to another’s total communication package.
Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA, studied the importance of verbal and nonverbal messages. He developed the “7%-38%-55% rule”. Words account for a mere 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for a staggering 55% of expression.
Meharabian’s tests have been subject to many criticisms, for example, he only tested women in an artificial context, and further studies have yielded different results. Nevertheless, all agree that non-verbal cues are overwhelmingly more effective than verbal utterances. According to the majority of findings, non-verbal communication is approximately four times more influential.
Yehuda was the king amongst his brothers. From early on, Yehuda took a commanding role in leading family affairs. In Egypt, when speaking to Yosef and his officials, it was Yehuda who acted as the leader and spokesman.
“Yehuda and his brothers came to Yosef’s house.” (Beraishis 44, 14)
“Yehuda said, “What shall we say to my master? What shall we speak, and how shall we exonerate ourselves?” (ibid, 16)
Yaakov had been reluctant to let Binyamin – the youngest, and apple of his eye – leave for Egypt. Yehuda undertook, nay, guaranteed to return Binyamin to the Land of Canaan. But life had taken a nasty turn for Yaakov’s sons. Binyamin was to be subjected to eternal servitude to Yosef, as a result of trumped up charges. He was ‘found’ guilty of stealing the viceroy’s goblet. Yehuda was prepared to put his own life on the line to redeem Binyamin from Yosef’s clutches. This was war, king against king, Yehuda versus Yosef.
Yehuda stood his ground. He began in great detail to recount to Yosef the events that had transpired leading up to Binyamin’s arrest. Although Yehuda was addressing one of Egypt’s most powerful rulers, he presented his case aggressively as there was much at stake. His rhetoric included both pleading and pressure. Yehuda was successful. The entire affair weighed heavily on Yosef’s heart and he could no longer control his emotions. In tearful acquiescence he returned Binyamin.
Before engaging Yosef, Yehuda took one small but immensely significant action. This solitary stroke was so striking that it defined his entire speech.
Yehuda approached Yosef.
This one little step, drawing physically closer to Yosef, crystallized Yehuda’s message – a simple act, accompanying the spoken word, lay bare what was truly in Yehuda’s heart.
I wish to be close to you!
The spoken word, alone, couldn’t possibly have carried as much weight. Certain actions expose the essence of what is truly in one’s soul. Yehuda’s speech, therefore, has forever more been referred to as “The Approach”. Hence, the name of the parsha, Vayigash.
The root of the Vayigash is “gesh”, closely related to the word “gush” which translates into “consolidation”. Yehuda’s entire message was consolidated, coming together with this small but powerful action. With just one physical step towards Yosef, Yehuda set Binyamin’s release into motion.
Today, in emulation of Yehuda’s approach, we take three steps towards Hashem before beginning the Shemona Esrei. It is a conscious attempt to do what Yehuda did subconsciously so very long ago.