Parshat Toledot

Torah Reading for Week of October 27-November 2, 2013

“The Power of Brevity”
By Rabbi Elijah J. Schochet, PhD, AJRCA Professor of Talmud

Ernest Hemingway is known as the “Father of the Word Story.”

An anecdote depicts the author dining with other writers when their conversation turned toward an interesting subject.  Is it possible to tell a story using just six words?  Hemingway claimed it could be done, and he would do so.  His companion deemed this an impossible task.

Hemingway purportedly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around the table.  He won the bet. 

What was the story Hemingway told with such brevity? 

“For sale: Baby shoes.  Never worn”.

What power and pathos emanates from these six words?  How eloquently they depict an indescribable tragedy.

This Sabbath’s Torah portion, Toledot, commences the saga of father Jacob and his son Joseph, arguably the most powerful and dramatic story in all of Scripture.  This story has all the makings of a lengthy Hollywood film, replete with romantic intrigue, parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, estrangement and reconciliation, exile and redemption.  It has everything, and deserves a four volume novel (see Thomas Mann) or an extended TV series.

Yet the Torah relates it all in but a few chapters.  In the climax of the saga of Joseph and his brothers, Judah will deliver a powerful speech in but 250 mostly mono-syllabic words!

Brevity is hardly a virtue in today’s world.  Pulpit to pew communications in the synagogue are frequently drowned in a deluge of excessive verbiage.  All too often our personal lives are similarly characterized by a plethora of unnecessary words.  Therapists testify that it is precisely when we have nothing to say that we insist on talking ad- infinitum when we say it, as if the merit of the message lies in its poundage, if not tonnage.

How much more satisfying human relations would be in a world of honest brevity.  Elaborate and evasive word play is a poor substitute for open direct communication.

How powerful are simple phrases such as: “I’m sorry”, “I feel for you”, “This means so much”, “Thank you”, and “I love you”.  How deeply they are appreciated and all of them are even less than six words in length.

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