After a long and taxing day at work, followed by the usual battle with rush hour traffic, Joe finally arrived home. He couldn’t wait to sink into his favorite living room chair and read the evening newspaper.
Turning his key in the front door, Joe heard the familiar sound of his wife, Sara, busy clamoring around in the kitchen.
“Hi, Sara! I’m home,” he announced cheerfully.
“Hi, hon. I’ll be right with you,” Sara called back, her voice sounding enthusiastic, but with an edge of tiredness.
“How was your day?” she greeted him a moment later at the side of the sofa.
“Good,” he answered, relaxing in his coveted place. All he was thinking about was how great it felt to be home.
“How was your meeting?” Sara queried, watching his features closely.
“Great,” he responded matter-of-factly, scanning the paper.
“Did Mr. Kohn like your presentation?” Sara continued.
“Yes,” Joe mumbled, and looked up to smile. “Very much.”
“Well, what did he say?” Sara pressed further.
Joe nodded wearily and without looking up managed to utter, “Just that it was good.”
A moment of uncomfortable silence passed between Joe and Sara. Joe almost didn’t feel the silence, but he did happen to glance up at Sara and notice the slight scowl that had developed across her face. Reprimanding himself for not reciprocating, he looked into Sara’s eyes and politely asked, “So, how was your day, Sara?”
Sara’s face brightened as she sat down across from Joe.
“Well it was alright, I guess,” she began slowly, waiting for him to express further interest.
When he said nothing, she continued, “Remember, Anna, my co- worker? Well, her apartment door just broke and she couldn’t find anyone to fix it so Carl gave her the name of his handyman and he was supposed to come to fix it this morning. Anna was waiting and waiting and Carl’s handyman forgot to come. So Anna got stuck at home waiting. She couldn’t possibly leave until it was fixed. Can you imagine?! Anyway, she came late to work and I had to cover all her calls and appointments. You can’t possibly fathom how hectic that was!”
Sara paused for a moment expectantly and Joe grunted in sympathy before she resumed, “And then for lunch, I was supposed to meet Debra, that friend of mine that I told you about who just moved into town. Remember her?”
This time Sara didn’t wait for a response. Joe’s eyes have a faraway expression.
“Well, Debra and I were going to connect for lunch but her son, Jonathan, who’s in our Jacob’s second grade class, just got sick. Debra had to cancel at the last minute. Oh, this reminds me,” Sara has a worried look over her features. “Jacob wasn’t feeling well when I picked him up from school this afternoon and he’s in his room resting now. Can you believe Jacob sleeping in the middle of the day?!”
“Huh?” Joe managed. “Oh, right. He must really not be feeling well.”
“I better go check on him now.” Sara concluded and scampered off to little Jacob’s bedroom.
Joe heaved a sigh of relief and returned to reading the evening newspaper.
* * *
In homes all across America and the world over, husbands and wives are meeting at the end of their day and finding a similar scenario playing out in their living rooms.
She’ll greet him and ask eagerly about his day.
He’ll answer in monotones that it was fine, good, or bad.
If he’ll remember to reciprocate and inquire about her day, he’s sure to get a run-down of all the details of what happened to her at work… or what the kids did at home… or what happened to the next door neighbor or co-worker.
He’ll wonder when or if she’ll ever finish the tirade of endless, intricate and irrelevant details and get to the important parts.
She’ll be frustrated that he doesn’t elaborate more about his day or inquire more enthusiastically about hers, so that they can share their feelings and experiences more openly with one another.
We have an interplay here of Chochma (conception) versus Bina (analysis).
He is employing his Chochmah, his masculine mode of cognition while she is using her Bina, her feminine, intuitive powers.
What is Chochma and Bina?
We activate our Chochma and then our Bina in every thought process that unfolds in our minds.
Chochma is the original flash of insight. It involves the thrill of a new idea. When you feel struck by some new insight or new concept, you are in your Chochma mode. Chochma is that concise nutshell of an idea that you just conceived. But you’ve only conceived it – you haven’t yet developed it, or even really understood it.
Bina is the meticulous systemizing and quantifying of the solution that Chochma has conceived. Bina involves taking that flash of insight, focusing on it, and probing its particulars.
* * *
Little four-year-old Boruch was bored. It was a rainy, gloomy day and all his friends already had playmate dates by the time his mother had tried to make arrangements for him that afternoon.
“Why don’t you build something with your blocks?” his mother suggested brightly.
Boruch looked at his colorless wooden blocks and scowled, “What should I build?”
“I’m sure you will think of something wonderful,” his mother encouraged him as she got busy in the kitchen.
Boruch sat for several moments staring at the large container in front of him. Suddenly his face brightened. He looked as though a light bulb had just gone off in his head.
That’s because a light bulb did go off in his head. The light bulb of chochma, conception.
Boruch’s faculty of chochma has just conceived a grand new idea.
“I know,” Boruch said aloud. “I’ve got it!” he smiled enthusiastically, excited with his new brainstorm.
But a moment later, a serious expression returned to his features. He sat in concentrated focus for several more minutes. It looked now like the wheels of his brain were churning, prodding, figuring.
They were. The machinery of Bina was taking over as Boruch focused on the details of the structure that chochma had just conjured up in his brain.
He pictured the intricate parts of the building and he meticulously and systematically quantified in his mind the various parts to his plan.
* * *
Chochma is conception, the first flash of inspiration that comes to your mind.
When you are problem solving, chochma is that flash of idea in which you realize you’ve just grasped a solution.
“I’ve got it!” you think to yourself, knowing you’ve just come across something grand and wonderful, but not realizing yet the details of the solution.
Bina is the elaboration, understanding the aspects or particulars of the plan, idea or solution.
Chochma encompasses the entire idea, but in a nutshell. Chochma remains vague without the groundedness of Bina figuring out how the details will come to play. On the other hand, Bina cannot formulate without the illumination and inspiration of Chochma.
While both men and women use Chochma and Bina in each and every part of their thinking process, the masculine mode excels at Chochma while the feminine mode excels at Bina.
“Bina yeteira nitna l’isha,” say our sages. Women were given an extra measure of intuitive bina.
Recent studies on the brain exemplify these differences between the genders.
Men’s eyes are larger than women’s, which allows them what scientists term a “long distance, tunnel vision” – or more accurate vision, but in a narrower field. Women, on the other hand, have a wider peripheral vision, in effect allowing them to see almost 180 degrees around them.
Women will often comment how their husbands are excellent at map skills, navigating in complicated terrain, but will lament how the same husband is hopelessly lost when trying to find a matching pair of socks in his own drawer!
This is all part of the interplay of the chochma/bina dichotomy – the insight that navigates so accurately through a general problem, vs. the wider peripheral vision that sees the applicable particulars.
Similarly, men have fewer cone-shaped cells in their retina, the part of the eye handling color. Men will invariably describe something as red, blue or green. Women, on the other hand, with their greater variety of cone-shaped cells, might describe colors more specifically as bone, aqua, mauve, or teal.
These distinctions point to the male’s excelling in the Chochma mode – the concise, nutshell thought, or the vision that sees more accurately, but in a more concentrated, narrower field. Women, on the other hand, excel in Bina. Her thoughts are not as focused on the outcome, but she sees rather the wider, peripheral vision, the particulars and implementation of the plan.
The Chochma/Bina dichotomy is most pronounced in the communication styles of each gender.
Studies show that men use language to compete and gain the upper hand in conversations, and therefore favor succinct, focused sentences. For this reason, men have tested as better at vocabulary and definitions, since precise expertise in this area is so important for using communication competitively. Men’s sentences are short, direct, solution-oriented and to the point.
Women, on the other hand, have been found to use indirect speech to build relationships and rapport. They are process oriented and they use language in a roundabout way to build participation.
Women will also use words as reward or punishment to demonstrate their affinity or disregard for an individual. (Many a man who has insulted his spouse can describe the scathing and deafening “silent treatment” punishment that women are so notorious for!)
Furthermore, a woman’s powerful multi-tracking of right and left brains allows a woman to speak and listen simultaneously on several unrelated topics. With her multi-tasking, wide bina scope, she considers this building relationships.
Men, on the other hand, interrupt only if they are becoming competitive or aggressive. Their lack of multi-tracking and their concentrated Chochma focus makes men take turns talking and they become resentful with a “rude interruption.”
Women will often wonder, “Why can’t he communicate more openly? Why can’t he share his thoughts and feelings more expressively? What is he really thinking?”
A woman’s superior Bina mode craves this more open communication and intimate connection. She relishes the details of the situation, the particular nuances, facial expressions and colors of an experience.
Men, like Joe, will wonder why women have to elaborate or speak so much. “Why must Sara analyze the details of everything I say or do? Doesn’t she realize I just need some time to relax without talking?”
Joe is not withholding information from Sara. He regards a simple “good,” “lousy” or “great” as an adequate communication of his day’s experiences. A man’s Chochma mode favors more concise and direct lines of communication and sees communication as a means to an end rather than as an experience in itself.
In truth, Sara and Joe are not trying to aggravate one another. They’re both communicating – it’s just that they communicate in different ways.
The distinctions in the makeup of men and women have always been the source of the magnetic attraction and curious allure that draws us towards one another. These differences, however, can also be the cause of intense frustration between spouses, and even siblings and co-workers.
How we deal with our gender differences can spell the difference between a successful and a resentful relationship.
Sara and Joe must each realize that their partner is simply communicating in his/her respective Chochma or Bina mode. This is their first step to gaining a better understanding and appreciation for each other. Sara needs to learn to appreciate her husband’s need for quiet relaxation time when he comes home from work, just as Joe needs to learn to find time to satisfy his wife’s need for closeness, connection and self-expression through communication.
At some point, each will have to suppress their inclined mode of communication to become more in tune with the other. This give-and-take is part of what a relationship is all about. It’s also well worth the small sacrifice for the benefit of a healthier and more successful relationship.
Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. Chana Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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