Actions Speak Louder Than Words


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. ‎

1 Comment

  1. I scanned it the first time; have just given it the closer attention it deserves, this is an important central concept in communication and you illustrated it beautifully. Thank you! But i am confused about Vayigash, wasn’t there intent of intimidation? Don some meforshim say something on the lines of ‘All of Mitzraim shook?’

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