"Valentine who was accustomed to a way of life in which speech was forbidden...felt no need to talk. It seemed to her that there was very little to say, and that what there was had mostly been said. As far as she was concerned, silence was a perfectly suitable medium for the existence of living organisms (Alice Thomas Ellis; The 27th Kingdom)." Valentine, a postulant with miraculous powers sent by her convent to a tumultuous home in Chelsea, works her magic on the noisy, gossipy family through her silence that is more powerful than speech. I've experienced such powerful silences such as when my father zt"l, rather than speak, simply held my hand and shared a few moments of silent pain with me as I lay seriously ill in the hospital. I hear such magical silences in the first seconds after the Rosh Hashanah Shofar blast.
If the Seven Days of Mourning for my mother were the fortissimo, the weeks since have been the longa rest. The rataplan of "May you be comforted," the babel of voices and stories, abruptly ended with an external silence and scudded their way into my head. I want to find the "thin voice of deathly silence (I Kings 19:12)," that Elijah experienced after the wind, earthquake and fire as he stood on the mountain in God's presence.
There are some silences that I dread; all the world over, we mourn the horrific murders of Rabbi Jonathan, Aryeh (6 years-old), and Gabriel Sandler (3), and 8 year-old, Miriam Monsonego in Toulouse, France. Many are now paying attention, but, I suspect, we will soon be distracted, our cries of outrage will be stilled, and the Sandler and Monsonego families will suffer their agonies in silent loneliness. That silence too, will be powerful, painfully so. I already hear echoes of that silence in the conversations about the massacre, when the outrage is immediately followed by discussions about traffic and the price of gas.
The week's portion, "Vayikra," "And God called," has an exquisite moment of silence; a silence that teaches us about its purpose. The Hebrew word, Vayikra, ends with a small letter, Aleph, the "silent letter." God called, in a mighty voice (Rashi), to Moshe, and immediately after the call there was silence, one in which Moshe could ponder how to gently convey the thundering voice of God to the people so they could absorb the message. Moshe used the silence to consider his next step, the moment following the silence. The power of silence is expressed by what follows, how we use the silence to consider our next step into the future.
Most of us will soon silently forget the names of the Toulouse victims, but, just as we are charged at the Seder with opening the mouth of the child who does not know how to ask, we are charged with using the silence that will come to find constructive ways to respond, and to yell out to the world and God, "Dayeinu!" "It's enough!"
The world is much quieter on Shabbat. It is our opportunity to consider our next step into the future. I pray that it will be a peaceful future, free of such horrors, hatred, and suffering.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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