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Home » Shmini, Tragedy

Shemini: Silence is Golden

Submitted by on March 17, 2014 – 4:21 pmNo Comment | 4,163 views


When Aaron experienced the tragic loss of two sons, he responded with silence. He didn’t accept with silence, he replied with silence. The Torah says, “Vayidom Aharaon,” Aaron fell silent.[1] At first he cried, but later, fell silent.[2] It wasn’t a passive silence, he wrestled with himself to achieve it.

For this, Aaron was rewarded by a revelation from G-d.[3] In the very next verse, G-d appears to Aaron to teach him the laws of mourning. Imagine the super human effort it takes for a father to fall silent over the sudden death of his children. There are so many tears, so many questions. There is a huge desire for comfort and explanation, yet Aaron achieves silence. A notable achievement that deserves reward.

Another thought. You might think that Aaron’s silence was tortured, yet that G-d revealed himself to Aaron, tells us Aaron was in a state of peace. Prophecy can only be achieved in a state of serenity and joy. A tumultuous spirit cannot attain Divine revelation.[4] That Aaron found serenity and even joy within his silence is incredible.

He let go of his genuine need for answers. He surrendered his real desire for comfort. He quieted the chatter of his mind and the storm of his heart to find silence. In the silence, he found comfort. In the comfort, he found serenity. In his serenity, he found joy and in his joy, he was granted prophecy.

Silence is Golden

Our sages taught that silence is the healthiest approach to life.[5] Words, befuddle and obfuscate. Silence is golden. When we visit a house of mourning, we like to talk, convey and hear. Grief is uncomfortable and we want to cover it, perhaps even smother it, with words. Silence is unnatural for us. Yet, when we relax and offer silence, it can be a well of deep comfort.

It is said, that in tragedy you discover your true friends. When you throw a party, everyone wants to be your friend. It’s fun to be your friend at such times. But when you are in grief, when words can’t plumb the depths of your thoughts and comments fail to stem the tide of your emotions, it’s unpleasant to be your friend.

Because at such times, you don’t need words. At such times you need silence. And silence is hard to offer. When we sit with others, we want to fill the space between us with words. We worry about what others think when a silent moment becomes a pregnant pause. It becomes stilted and awkward. We look for the nearest exit.

At such times you discover your true friends. The ones that are so close that they don’t fear silence. They hold your hand and feel your pain. Their silence speaks louder than words. It isn’t pleasant or easy for them, but they don’t shirk their friendship and abandon you. They are there for you and if silence is what you want, silence they give.

They don’t worry about what you think because they know what you feel. They feel some of what you feel. They are your true friends.

Soul Talk

Speaking, is oral communication. Silence is soulful communication. Your ordinary friends haven’t forged a soul connection with you and are thus uncomfortable in silence. It is too intense, too revealing and too vulnerable. They aren’t ready for that kind of connection. Your true friends, meet you where you are. Soul to soul, person to person. As and how you are. In words, or in silence, they are there for you.

When I first dated my wife we experienced, as all couples do, a pregnant pause. I grew uncomfortable with the silence, but my wife smiled and said, it’s important to have a moment of silence at least once every fifteen minutes. She put me at ease and I was no longer uncomfortable with our silence. Knowing that she was comfortable with it allowed me to grow comfortable with it too. Our silence brought us closer than words and ultimately we got married.

True friends connect deeply in silence. Casual friends shrink from silence. In tragedy you discover your true friends. When you need silence you find out who is capable of offering it. You find your soul mates.

Silent Visit
I was going to visit a person in need and didn’t know what to say. I asked a friend, who had experienced similar needs, what he might say if he were to visit. He suggested that I simply ask this person what he would like to talk about. My immediate response was, but what if he doesn’t want to talk? Then you will sit companionably in silence, was my friend’s reply.

This frightened me. I can talk till the sun goes down and never hesitate, but to sit in silence overwhelmed me. It isn’t easy to offer silence to a total stranger. We often fear having nothing to say, but we fear even more needing to say nothing. Silence is comfortable with a loved one. With a true friend it can be intense, but with a stranger it is downright scary. Fortunately for me, the man wanted to talk so we filled the space between us with words.

When we experience tragedy, G-d can seem like a total stranger. A loving G-d, a loving father, would not bestow such terrible tragedy. To find silence at such moments is almost super human. At times like this, G-d discovers His truest friends.

Aaron found silence and in that silence he forged a deeper connection with G-d than He had ever enjoyed before. He was rewarded with a revelation, a teaching from G-d, but more than that, He was appointed to enter the Holy of Holies, the quietest space in the world on the quietest day of the year. He entered, without bells on his tunic. He entered in silence because he was a man of silence.

It isn’t easy to find silence with G-d at such times. For Aaron, who had been crying a moment earlier, it was a huge effort, but in his silence, he found peace. Once we surrender our need for answers, we surrender our very selves and become greater than ourselves. We merge with G-d and in His grandeur, we find silence. Such silence is cathartic. It is like a balm. It consoles and brings peace. It is the silence of oneness. The silence of the universe. The silence of G-d.


[1] Leviticus, 10: 3.

[2] Nachmonides ad loc.

[3] Rashi ad loc.

[4] Maimonides Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, 7: 4.

[5] Ethics of our fathers 1: 17.

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