Joe is sitting in the den. The remote control keeps his hands busy while his unseeing eyes gaze straight ahead. His mind is focusing on a problem that had stumped him all week at work. The project has been stalled for several days now due to an unforeseen glitch.
Sarah walks in. Always the perceptive one, she immediately senses that something is amiss. She notices her husband’s tense posture, the crease on his brow, his clenched fists, his expressionless eyes, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
Sarah wonders if she did something to contribute to Joe’s bleak mood.
“Maybe he’s upset with my purchases this afternoon,” Sarah thinks to herself. “Maybe, our financial situation is really worse that I thought… And here I was telling him all about my friend Debra’s vacation plans. How could I have been so thoughtless!” Sarah reprimands herself.
Quietly, Sarah walks up to Joe’s side and offers, “Honey, can I get you a drink?”
Joe hadn’t heard Sarah approaching and is startled by her question and her presence. “Huh?” he says.
Joe is currently in his chochma mode. Chochma is the thought process we experience when we are looking for a concise, all-encompassing, abstract solution to a particular problem. Our vision is concentrated on the issue, to the exclusion of all else.
Sarah is employing the bina faculty of her mind. Bina is the faculty we use when we focus on the details, when we process and analyze particular nuances of a situation, when we use non-verbal cues and tones of voice as signals for evaluating emotional responses, when we break down an idea into words and sentences in order to communicate it to another.
“Joe must feeling pressured at work,” Sarah muses. “All those lay-offs at his department are surely beginning to worry him.
“That must be it. He doesn’t want to worry me, but he wants us to start budgeting more wisely.
“But I just wish he was more open with me. He always tells me his job is fine. Why can’t he just be straight with me about what’s really going on?
“Come to think of it, he’s had that faraway look in his eyes all week long.
Sarah clenches her fist angrily, “Oh, I wish he would just talk about it!”
Sarah repeats her offer of a drink to a blank-faced Joe. “No,” Joe answers somewhat gruffly. He almost leaves it at that, but then softens his response by adding, as an afterthought, “Thanks, but no.”
In Sarah’s mind, the solution to Joe’s problem will be found by speaking it through and thereby working it out. This is how problems are solved in bina mode – by discussing and elaborating on its particulars – as opposed to the quiet and intense focus most suited to the mind’s chochma mode.
Sarah is even now more convinced that something is really bothering Joe and that she has contributed to it. She sits down opposite Joe. After a moment or two of absolute silence, she tries again.
“Joe…” she begins.
Joe’s thoughts are miles away. He is examining a new angle. If he can just find a connecting link between these two parts, then he’d find the resolution he was so desperately seeking!
Almost in a fog-like trance, Joe hears Sarah saying something.
“…So, I was thinking that maybe I should return those purchases – you didn’t really seem to like them too much…”
Joe is too close to the solution to divert his attention. “Hmm, ok,” he manages, hoping that would put an end to whatever question Sarah is posing.
Sarah pushes on, “And Joe, you know the vacation trip that I told you Debra was taking with her husband…” Sarah describes the plans in detail. “Well, I think that this year maybe we should skip it and wait, till… you know… till things settle down more here…” She gives Joe a meaningful look to hint at her keen grasp of the situation.
Joe grunts an acknowledgement. All he hears is the word “vacation” and he thinks if he can just get this problem solved he’d be entitled to take several extra days off – and probably a nice bonus too – which should make Sarah really happy.
Chochma is an illusive thought process – the nutshell solution is in our mind, but we still haven’t grasped its entirety. “I’ve got it,” we may say to ourselves, but we haven’t yet figured out just what it is that we discovered.
When the chochma thought process is interrupted, we will often feel like we’re going to “lose it” – and the abstract idea will vanish.
Joe’s brain, operating in the chochma mode, can only store detailed information if it is organized into some coherent form or has relevance to him. Irrelevant and random information – which can actually aid the bina process (as a way of “broadening” the idea by contrasting or testing its particulars against them) – is just distracting noise, and its introduction will often disrupt the chochma process entirely.
By now, Sarah is convinced that their financial situation is in shambles and is strongly questioning the stability of their relationship. She wonders: if Joe is so reluctant to share this crisis with her, what does that indicate about their marriage?
“Joe. Really, I think we need to talk,” Sarah perseveres. “Something is bothering you.”
“Oh, I’m just thinking about an issue at work,” Joe answers simply.
Sarah nods meaningfully. “Yes, Joe. I understand. You’re having some difficulties. Let’s talk about it.”
“Really, Sarah. I just need to think,” Joe says, sounding a little more annoyed than he had intended.
Sarah is hurt and feels rebuffed. “Why can’t Joe share his problem with me? Doesn’t he trust me?” Sarah decides she must be adamant – to demonstrate to Joe just how much she cares about him.
“Look Joe. I don’t want you to be so worried. Whatever it is that is happening at work, we’ll work it through,” she reassures him.
Joe nods, hoping that would be the end and that he can finally get some peaceful silence.
But Sarah is persistent. “Please, Joe. Let’s talk about it,” she almost pleads. “You need to get it off your chest. You’ll feel better if you unload. Trust me!”
Joe shrugs his shoulders, desperate for some quiet. “Sure, Sarah. We’ll talk later about whatever it is that you want to talk about. But right now, I’ve just got to work this through.”
Joe is frustrated that Sarah keeps thwarting his thought process. He was on the verge of a solution and now he has to backtrack and re-think this from its foundation. He cannot fathom why Sarah insists on these discussions just when he’s on the edge of grasping an important break-through. It almost seems like she purposely antagonizes him with her interruptions!
Sarah, on her part, is feeling both worried and insulted. She tried so hard to be considerate, valiantly struggling to be in tune with Joe. And what does she get? He rudely shuts her out, offensively rebuffing her.
“I was being so caring and I barely got a grunt in acknowledgement!” Sarah fumes. “What kind of a relationship is this anyway? Why doesn’t he confide in me?”
Sarah is worried. She still doesn’t have a clear picture on just how stable Joe’s work situation is.
The longer Joe remains tuned out, the more Sarah is fuming at his response. And the more anxious she is getting….
No matter how many times Joe reassures Sarah that he cares about her, every time he rebuffs her due to his preoccupation with a problem, she takes it as a personal insult and an affront to their relationship. Regardless of how stable their relationship is, she will question why he is acting so distant.
An hour later, Joe is happy and content. He has finally solved this major glitch and his superiors are sure to be pleased. In the best of moods, humming a favorite tune, he seeks out Sarah and is totally baffled by her icy stares and deafening silence.
Joe makes a few attempts at humor. Next he tries some casual conversation.
After meeting with Sarah’s gruff or sarcastic responses, Joe hastily ceases.
“Sarah must be in a bad mood about something,” he reasons. “Maybe she has a problem at work, or had an argument with one of her friends… It looks like she doesn’t want me to interfere. She probably just needs some time on her own,” Joe concludes and retreats into his study, hoping to give Sarah the space he imagines she desires.
Sarah watches Joe’s back turn on her and now feels even more justified in being outraged. “If Joe really cared about me, he’d make sure to persist until I told him what is bothering me, instead of his half-hearted attempt at silly conversation! He knows I’m worried sick and want to talk.”
Sarah feels utterly rejected. “If our relationship meant anything to him, he would make sure we spoke openly until we got to the bottom of this and worked it all out.”
It might take Sarah and Joe several years and much frustration before they realize that they are experiencing a typical interplay of chochma and bina.
(To be continued)
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. She 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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