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Parshas Toldos - Listening to your Common Senses                4 Kislev 5781

11/20/2020 11:37:05 AM


Our nervous system depends upon the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste in order to receive and process information from the world outside our bodies. Each of these senses has a specific job:               

Sight:  The eyes translate light into image signals for the brain to process.

             Sound: The ears use bones and fluid to transform sound waves into sound signals to the brain.

                           Touch: Specialized receptors in the skin send touch signals to the brain.

              Smell: Molecules released from fragrances or odors stimulate olfactory cells or nerve cells in the nose, sending signals to the brain where the particular smell is identified.

Taste – gustation - develops through taste receptors on the tongue, soft palate, cheeks, esophagus and the epiglottis – a small flap in the throat.  Five types of taste are known: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami – the taste of protein!

    As I analyze these five senses, three of them seem to be more critical than the other two. The ability to see, hear and feel are important regarding our health, safety, and overall well-being. This is not to say that taste and smell do not affect safety and health, but in my opinion these senses are not as critical to survival as the others. With that said, I will share two examples where I dramatically fail with regard to listening to the messages my senses are sending me.

The first incident occurred over thirty years ago while driving over the 59th street bridge from Queens to Manhattan. We were stuck in traffic. My car began overheating and smoke was steaming out from under the hood. At one point the person next to me (my Shidduch date) in the passenger seat said,” Is that smoke coming from this car?” A few minutes later the passenger was sniffing, while I thought that there did seem to be a smell like anti-freeze oozing into the passenger section of the car, vaguely indicating to me that there may be a leak. I remained, however, oblivious, until the passenger noticed drivers in other vehicles motioning to us, wildly waving their hands, pointing to the smoke now coming out thickly and rapidly. My polite passenger sheepishly asked,” Don’t you think something is wrong?” I responded,” You mean that little smell and some smoke? Nah. It’s nothing.”  Long story short, we made it over the bridge, parked on 2nd Avenue and waited for a tow truck to get us home.

The second example occurred about fifteen months ago when my foot was just a little swollen.  I ignored that and kept going. By the end of the day I was limping along. I could see some redness on the top of my foot and felt a nagging, but not serious pain. I took some ibuprofen, raised my foot while sitting, and by morning it was better. By the end of the next day, however, it was swollen again and felt really heavy. This went on for about two weeks until I was finally convinced that it might be a good idea to see my doctor. Making a long story short, I ignored the signs, and, as you may remember, I learned that I had been walking around with a broken foot. There are dozens of examples I can relate to about how our body detects and senses when something is wrong - or even right.

Reviewing the Parsha this week, I picked up on the fact that all the senses are mentioned in the parsha. In fact, all five are found in the Perek chapter 27.  This week’s Parshas Toldos opens with the pregnancy of Rivka and concludes with the fleeing of Yaakov from his brother Eisav. Let us identify and highlight where and how these senses are mentioned and how significant they are. In no order we begin with Rivka experiencing a mini battle of sorts within her as she is pulled toward the house of idolatry by Eisav and the house of Torah study by Yaakov while in her womb. From that point on Yaakov and Eisav went their separate ways, but their paths crossed many times, continuing to this very day. 

The Torah states in Bereishis 27:1   "ויהי כי זקן יצחק ותכהין עניו מראות, ויקרא את עשו בנו הגדול ויאמר אליו בני ויאמר אליו הנני"   “Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was fading. He summoned his elder son Esau, and he called out ‘my son’ and he said ’Yes’ I am here.’ Why was it important for the Torah to relate the status of his eyesight? The fact that he was getting old was reason enough to want to bless his children, just as the Torah relates how Avraham, his father, was old!  In Bereishis 27:9 the Torah states: "לך נא אל הצאן וקח לי משם שני גדיי עזים טובים, ואעשה אתם מטעמים לאביך כאשר אהב"  Rivka said to Yaakov, ”Go to the sheep and take two choice young kids. I will prepare them with a tasty recipe, just the way your father likes them.” Why was it necessary for Rivka to prepare food that should have a good taste? The answer is simple: she was following the command that Yitzchok himself had asked Eisav to do for him earlier in 27:4. One can ask why Yitzchok asked Eisav for a tasty meal? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the best bracha/blessing comes following a satiated, full stomach. Note that sound and touch are found in the same verse, making this  perhaps one of the most famous pesukim to pit the Jewish people against all the other nations of the world. In Bereishis 27:22 the Torah states: "ויגש יעקב אל יצחק אביו וימושהו, ויאמר הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו"  “Yaakov came closer to his father Yitzchok, and [Yitzchok] touched (felt) him. He said, ‘The voice (sound) is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Eisav’.”  Why is the word ‘voice’ repeated, but the hands – touch – is only mentioned once? I suggest that a sound - or voice - is a sense that can be impersonated or altered, meaning the same one individual can have two different-sounding voices from the same voice box, in contrast to the sense of touch, in this case the hands -feeling – was the cover-up by Rivka who ‘dressed’ Yaakov’s hands. I believe my distinction is supported by the fact the word ‘voice’ - in Hebrew ‘kol’ - is spelled two different ways: one time ckaser and one time malei- meaning once full with a vav and the other without. This Indicates that there was something strange going on. Even though Yitzchok could not see well, his sense of hearing was able to discern the sound of Yaakov’s voice even though the hands felt like the hands of Eisav. The final sense of smell that the Torah states in Bereishis 27:27 "ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו, ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה' "   “Yaakov approached and kissed him [Yitzchok]; he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and blessed him. He said, see my son’s fragrance is like the perfume of a field blessed by God”.

Of the five senses and incidents I point out, four of the five are in the positive.  Sight was lacking; Yitzchok could not see! Sight, however, in this situation was Yitzchok’s foresight: he recognized the need to give specific blessings to each of his sons. Alternatively, sight could also be a reference to the moment Yitzchok realized he had given the first bracha to Yaakov and trembled, knowing that was Eisav standing in front of him. Rashi on the word ‘tremble’, connotes an expression that Yitzchok saw Gehinnom opened beneath him.

We take away from this analysis that the senses are physical in nature. We need them to navigate our way through life; it is scientifically proven that when one sensor does not work properly, other sensors will kick in to compensate. The deeper and more significant lesson, however, is to be more acutely aware of how we should consciously use our sensory processing for the performing and fulfilling the Mitzvos. Let us use our common sense to provide the vital viaduct to living both our physical and spiritual lives properly, making continuous effort not to ignore the signs our senses are sending to us.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


P.S. Guess who the passenger in the car was?

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782