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Parsha Vayechi

12/20/2018 08:14:48 PM

Dec20

The Gemara says that when the brothers arrived to Ma’aras Hamachpela to bury Yaakov, Eisav confronted them by claiming that as the older twin, he was entitled to the last remaining burial spot.  An ensuing debate broke out, with the brothers arguing that Eisav forfeited this right when he sold his birthright to Yakov, and Eisav arguing that he only sold his extra portion of the birthright and not his core share to the burial plot.  Eventually, the brothers sent Naftali back home to retrieve the original document of sale that could prove their side, and in the interim, they waited with Yakov’s dead body in a stalemate before Eisav.  Chushim Ben Dan, who the Gemara tells us was deaf, inquired what was delaying Yakov’s burial, and when understanding the answer, he exclaimed: “Should my grandfather’s body lie here in disgrace until Naftali comes back!?” and took a club and killed Eisav on the spot, effectively ending the hindrance to Yakov’s burial.  Of all of Yakov’s descendants, why was it that only Chushim was so sensitive and intolerant of the disgrace to Yakov’s body?  Moreover, by providing the detail that Chushim was deaf, the Gemara seems to insinuate that it was his deafness that contributed to his actions. 

R’ Chaim Shmulevitz suggests that it was Chushim’s deafness specifically that provided him with the right sensitivities for the intolerable sight before his eyes, because he was reacting to the situation only with his eyes while his brothers and cousins were using their eyes, ears, and mouths.  This simple difference can be explained and elaborated upon in different ways, but perhaps it can be testimony of the power of concentration from one particular sense, something that we very rarely do.  All the children saw the same sight that horribly disgraced Yakov’s honor, but the brother’s vision was supplemented and then tainted with a discussion about the right to enter the cave while Chushim’s vision remained as a pure vision.  A “David and Goliath” type of idea, sometimes disadvantages themselves can become advantages when one is forced to concentrate on one talent instead of coasting with an array of different talents. 

In his book “The Man who mistook his wife for a hat,” neurologist Oliver Sacks explores different types of brain disorders and the way they impact life’s experiences.  In a discussion of aphasia, a disorder that strips patients from linguistic understanding- impairing their ability to comprehend the meaning of words and to communicate, Sacks poses a most remarkable theory that sheds light on the power of Chushim ben Dan.  Sacks speaks of a group of patients in the aphasia ward who were watching the President’s speech on television, and who simply burst out in uncontrollable laughter from the speech.  One suffering from aphasia cannot understand pure words said to them, but they are highly functional in picking up the message being conveyed because they still retain acute focus on tone, expression, visual cue, and emphasis.  In fact, in order to really ascertain that a patient suffers from aphasia, doctors may have them listen to computerized voice synthesizers that leave only the words themselves so that they have no other clues and hints.  Given their condition, aphasiacs become highly aware of the nuances of speech that are not the words themselves, nuances that healthy people overlook.  People say you cannot lie to an aphasiac, and as they watched the President speak, their infallible attention to the totally spontaneous involuntary expressiveness that cannot be faked or concealed made them brake out in laughter.  All the grimaces, inauthentic gestures, and acting made the President seem like an amateur actor to their trained eyes, and they could not relate to his words with any seriousness.  We are deceived by speech because we can understand the words being said, and our advantages become disadvantages when we only get the overall picture of the image of the President speaking without all the concentrated focus on the nuances of speech.  This is a message for us even though we B’H are blessed with working senses, because it means that we do potentially have the ability to really focus on one power and to use it all the more effectively.  

Tue, July 16 2019 13 Tammuz 5779