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Shabbat Ends: 5:31 pm

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Torah Message:

 Voice Recognition

“…that it is my (Yosef’s) mouth that is speaking to you” (45:12)

Learning Hebrew was a slow painful process for me. But when I finally managed to hold what might be called a “conversation”, it struck me that the way I was expressing myself in Hebrew was quite different from my English self.

Not just that my limited vocabulary and my painful syntax made communication more cumbersome and imprecise, but that I adopted a different persona — somewhat more confrontational and heimishe.

My intuition is that the identity and the culture expressed in that language have an influence on the way we expresses ourselves when we speak that language.

I found something similar in this week’s Torah portion.

“…that it is my mouth that is speaking to you.

Yosef is here reassuring the brothers that the Egyptian Viceroy facing them is in point of fact their long-lost brother. Rashi explains that he did this by speaking in Hebrew, a language unknown in Egypt. The Ramban questions this interpretation because it was likely that most of the ruling class in Egypt probably knew Hebrew.

So what, then, according to Rashi, was the sign that signified that Yosef was indeed their brother?

Yosef’s physical appearance had completely changed after twenty-two years, but there is one thing that doesn’t change — the sound of someone’s voice. Voice recognition is such a strong indication of identity that it can be used as a factor in deciding the halacha in matters of issur v’heter (see Chulin 96a).

But that’s only if the person you are identifying is speaking in a language that you have heard him speak. When Yosef stopped speaking to the brothers in Egyptian and started to speak in Hebrew, the unmistakable sound of their brother’s voice reassured them that he was Yosef.

  • Sources: Ahavat Yehonatan in Mayana Shel Torah