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Between the Lines: The Art of Reading Emotions in Text Messages

Written by שי טחן, 17/1/2024


Between the Lines: The Art of Reading Emotions in Text Messages

Rabbi Shay Tahan


When we get a text from a friend or family, often we can sense the emotions revealed in the texts—interpreting the sentiments behind the words. Paying attention to subtle cues allows us to understand not only how the person on the other side of the line feels about us but also how they feel about themselves.

Observing the choice of words, tone, and even the use of emojis can provide valuable insights into the sender's emotional state. This nuanced understanding enhances our ability to connect and empathize in the digital realm.

We can extract this notion from our Torah portions dealing with Pharaoh, observing how his feelings evolve based on the contextual shifts in the words he uses.

Since Pharaoh claimed to be a god, one of Hashem's agendas in afflicting him was to expose that he is a regular human being. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu (Shemot 7, 1), "I am appointing you as a god to Pharaoh." What does that mean? Since Pharaoh was portraying himself as a god in control of everyone in the world, Hashem wanted to show that Moshe is in control of Pharaoh, indicating that he isn't a god. Thus Hashem sends Moshe to the river early in the morning when Pharaoh is going to the bathroom in hiding, not to expose himself as a human.

One of the differences between a god and humans is that a god doesn't have any feelings, while humans do. (Do not be misled by verses in Scripture that suggest Hashem has feelings. As the Rambam explains, Hashem does not have emotions, but the verses are intended for us to comprehend how a human would feel in a similar situation.)

Therefore, Hashem manipulated Pharaoh to expose his emotions. We see this repeatedly while reading the interactions between Moshe and Pharaoh. Although the Torah doesn't explicitly tell us how Pharaoh felt, careful observation of Pharaoh's words reveals his feelings quite clearly.

Let's consider a few examples.

When Moshe first approaches Pharaoh to request the release of the nation, Pharaoh answers (Shemot 5’ 2), "Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel." By reading these words, one clearly gets the understanding that Pharaoh here feels very proud and elevated above all. He is acting as someone who doesn't take commands from anybody and shows contempt for anyone who tries to order him.

When Moshe insists, Pharaoh responds (Shemot 5, 4), "Why do you disturb the people from their work? Go to your own burden." Immediately, Pharaoh commands his servants to increase the work of the slaves. From Pharaoh's response, we can infer that he is angry. The Torah doesn't explicitly mention it, as it is understood from the context.

After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh says (Shemot 10, 17), "I have sinned to Hashem, your God, and to you. And now, please forgive my sin just this time and entreat Hashem that He removes from me only this death." Reading these words immediately gives the impression that Pharaoh is finally breaking down, as he uses words of remorse. Although it is understood that he may not genuinely mean them, the fact that he speaks in this manner speaks volumes.

Finally, during the last plague—the death of every firstborn—Pharaoh loses his own firstborn child and fears for his life. We read that Pharaoh goes out at midnight to look for Moshe and Aaron and the Jewish courtiers. He screams (Rashi 12, 31), "Where is Moshe? Where is Aaron? Please leave without any conditions. I will abide by every one of your demands." This is a clear demonstration of fear and panic, and we can understand this without the Torah explicitly telling us how he felt.


Understanding people's emotions from their text messages involves analyzing various textual cues, including language choice, tone, punctuation, and context. Here are some key aspects to consider:


1. Word Choice and Tone: Positive Emotions can be expressed through positive and enthusiastic language, the use of exclamation points, emojis, and positive adjectives. Negative Emotions may be conveyed through negative words, complaints, sarcasm, and a generally pessimistic tone.


2. Punctuation: Exclamation Points can indicate heightened excitement, while excessive use of ellipses (...) might suggest hesitation, uncertainty, or trailing off in thought. All Caps writing can imply shouting or strong emphasis.


3. Sentence Structure: Long and detailed sentences may indicate enthusiasm or a desire to share more information. Short and abrupt sentences might suggest frustration, impatience, or a desire to keep communication brief.


4. Emojis and Emoticons: Smileys :) and other emojis can convey a person's emotional state, adding nuance to the text. The absence of emojis in a typically expressive person might be noteworthy.


5. Context: Consider the context of the conversation, including recent events or known circumstances that may influence emotions.



6. Repetition: Repeating certain words or phrases may indicate emphasis or strong feelings.


7. Timing: Responding quickly may suggest excitement or eagerness, while delayed responses might imply contemplation or busyness.


Paying attention to all those signs provides us with a strong sense of how the person on the other side feels, guiding us on how we should proceed in our response.

It's important to note that interpreting emotions through text has limitations, as nuances can be lost, and interpretations may vary. Cultural differences, personal writing styles, and the relationship between communicators also play crucial roles in understanding emotions accurately.

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