Monday, July 25, 2011

"Sometimes silence is the best answer"

There is an old proverb that says “Sometimes silence is the best answer.”
This is a hard one for me. I like to talk. Hang out with me for a few minutes and you learn this.
Ask my wife. She has a hard day at work…maybe something didn’t go as planned. What’s my first response? To ask questions and and tell her what she can do to try to correct it now or at least make sure it doesn’t happen again. Good intention? Sure…but is it always the right thing to do???

Our society is getting louder and louder. People are increasingly talking about everything and nothing all the time with little relief. You can’t turn on the TV without being inundated by talking heads talking over each other…politics, business, sports, celebrities, court cases…So instead you turn on the radio: politics, business, sports, celebrities, court cases…and maybe a little music thrown in there.

You don’t even have to turn on the tv or radio. Go online! You’ll find plenty of people sounding off on every subject imaginable.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that talking is wrong. Some situations require it, but there is a balance to be found…I’m talking about the wisdom of speaking carefully and thoughtfully and the discipline of silence. Knowing when to talk and when to be silent.

Even in our weekly service here we have a time of silence when we recite the Amidah.

“Sometimes silence is the best answer.”

Silence is generally something we try to avoid. We aren’t comfortable with it. Think about the awkward silences we’ve each encountered and how often our response is to say something. We have a need to break the silence and perhaps too often we ignore the actual need FOR silence.

It’s traditional when visiting people sitting shiva to wait for the mourners to say something…and if nothing is said to simply sit there in silence. My mom calls this “sitting in the mud together”. Sometimes words are not appropriate and harm more than they help.
In his blog Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman wrote this:

"When my grandmother passed away, we were sitting “Shiva” (traditional mourning period in Judaism) at my parent’s house. One of my grandparent’s neighbors came to “cheer up” my grandfather. She sat with him and told him he was very lucky to have had my grandmother for so long and that she was not in pain anymore and in a better place. My dad and I were in the kitchen listening in, and I was relating to my dad what our “visitor” was saying. I told him she was making my grandfather cry. My father asked what we should do. I suggested throwing her off the balcony, but my dad shook his head. I went in and said we had to get ready for something and told our visitor she needed to go. She left feeling like she did a mitzvah, and my grandfather pulled me aside and thanked me. It wasn’t that she said anything bad. They were things we all thought ourselves. The problem was that she was having the effect of pouring salt into an open wound."

You know, this past Tuesday was the 17th of Tammuz. We remembered the breach of the walls of Jerusalem. The next few weeks are a time of mourning and introspection for the Jewish people which culminate on Tisha B’av…a day where the Jewish world sits together mourning the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel.

In todays NT passage we witness Yeshua’s silence. In many other places the gospel writers recorded His words. He always had the right words for the situations, didn’t’ he? This time however, was different. He didn’t say anything. Or did He? Perhaps His silence said more than words could have.

In the latest issue of The Set Table Ben Ehrenfeld had this to say:

"Yeshua’s silence in this week’s portion is almost unbearable. How could he, with the authority to cast out demons, raise the dead, stop storms, change hearts, and renew minds stay silent while Roman guards made a mockery out of him and his people?
Furthermore, Yeshua endured the cross out of obedience to his Father’s will. Yeshua did not know all of what would ultimately transpire in this world. There is at least one thing he did know. He did know hard days were coming and he must have realized he was experiencing a manifestation of what Rome would ultimately do to the Jewish people. He was taking the hit for a people who, for the most part, were too scared, angry or indifferent to care.

Why doesn’t he open his mouth?! Every time I read this passage I want to hear something that reminds that he is a man, only to be left with that same deafening silence. This is no way for the manifestation of God to be treated. This is no way for a man to be treated. He’s treated like an object: five verses that show he was so robbed of his humanity that he couldn’t even carry his cross himself. The son of God, the Son of man, treated like a scapegoat for every misguided fear and hate that ever entered into the human mind."

He goes on to say:

"Abraham Joshua Heschel would sometimes speak of God in terms of the “meaning beyond absurdity.” Such a view can be very helpful when encountering passages like this week’s Besora portion.

Nevertheless, we only have five verses and all they speak of is absurdity.

Maybe it is worthwhile to sit with the absurdity for just a bit, lest we numb ourselves to think that injustice and malice are “normal.” Maybe we have to face the pain of knowing the terrible cost for the redemption of the world.
One last quote from Rabbi Schiffman:

"We are exhorted to let our deeds be many and our words few. Words can comfort and heal, but words can also be no more than noise. We need to be intentional about how we use words, and make sure we aren’t just creating noise. We are intended to have a healing effect on the world. Much of that healing is done in silence."
There is an old Jewish proverb that says “If a word is worth 1 coin, silence is worth 2.”

Certainly, we see that Yeshua’s silence here was worth much more than 2 coins. His silence initiated with authority the reconciliation of The Creator with His creation in a fullness not previously seen.

May the words of our mouths AND the meditations of our hearts…those times spent in silence, not be mere reflections of that proclamation, but tangible evidences of it.


Anonymous said...

I didn't think anybody else was going to blog about the three weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. People don't like to be reminded of sorrow and certainly after mourning over Leiby Kletzky, I think the blogosphere just wants to bury its collective head in the sand and forget that monsters and death exist.

I agree that sometimes sharing grief in silence is the best, but sometimes we expect that the grieving will say nothing so we won't have to respond. The trick is not to project our needs onto them. If they want to be silent, be silent. If they need to talk, listen. If they need to cry, comfort them.

While it's traditional for only Jews to mourn for the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av, I believe the rest of us should mourn too, but perhaps in our own way, because we all share the exile of the Jews in some measure. We are all waiting for the Messiah to come and to fix a broken world. We're all in the diaspora awaiting the rescue of the King.


Jon said...

great comment, James.

there were a few things that were weighing on me as I wrote this last week, Leiby Kletzky being one of them.

"The trick is not to project our needs onto them."
sadly, this is often the antithesis of how we operate.

I think it's appropriate for Gentile believers mourn the exile along with the Jewish world. Hadn't put much thought into mourning the Temple...though what its destruction represents is something to mourn.
This is also an appropriate time for all Yeshua followers to be interceding for Israel's recognition of her messiah and her reconciliation to him.
I'm reminded of Romans 11:15...

Rabbi Joshua said...


Great post!

Jon said...

Thanks, Yosh!

Anonymous said...

I quoted part of this blog post in today's "morning meditation": Within the Sound of Silence. Just so you know.