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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sound of Silence

“The silence in the wadi is an ancient silence, so overwhelming that it is almost a presence, a sound. Perhaps it is the sound of God. It feels that way to me. I feel that I am in the presence of majesty, of glory. As the explanation for one of the most important prayers on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kipper relates: God is the sound of a still soft voice. In the book of Kings, Elijah flees to wilderness, to hide in a cave. Perhaps this cave is connected to the cave where Koby was killed. There, Elijah was told that God would appear. He felt a strong wind, heard an earthquake and saw a fire, but God was not in any of these. God instead was in a soft hushed voice. God’s presence is not something that forces you to recognize it; you have to listen very hard to hear. You have to make room for it in your own silence. That the silence in this canyon: it’s not an emptiness. The silence is like putting your ear to the hush of a shell that has been waiting for you to pick it up from the beginning of time.

“The silence of the cave, the silence of the canyon – in the face of pain and suffering, silence respects the mystery of life and the limits of language. It says that there is more to our lives that we can speak about. It admits there is another way of knowing and that knowing is sometimes in the space between words.”
The Blessing of a Broken Heart, by Sherri Mandell, pp. 59-60

“R. Aryeh Levine recounted:

“…I derived particularly great pleasure at sitting before the Nazir, R. David Cohen, and listening to the ‘sound of his silence.’ It was a kind of mysterious sound, an exalted sound. The sound of sublime song emanated and ascending from his silence.

“Once, I was confronted with a very serious and urgent matter, and I could not decide how to act. I went to consult with out master, Rav Kook zt”l, but, by chance, he was not home at the time. I entered the beit midrash and found it practically empty. Only R. David Cohen was there, sitting in a corner, immersed in his studies. I went up to him and greeted him cordially. He reciprocated with a cheerful grin and motioned to me that I should sit down. I sat down next to him, and neither of us uttered a word for close to half-an-hour. We just sat there silently. Afterwards, I stood up, took my leave, and returned home. When I arrived, I felt as if all of my questions and doubts were solved. Everything that I wanted to ask seemed so simple now, so clear. It was amazing.

“R. Chayim Ya’akov Levine, R. Aryeh’s son, once told this story to Rav Kook, and the Rav responded: ‘Why was [your father] so amazed? Does he think that our R. David is the silent type? Not so. R. David talks a lot; he doesn’t stop talking. It’s just that he speaks in his own unique language – the language of silence, which is the language of wisdom.’

“Then the Rav added: ‘The Maharal of Prague writes in Nitivot Olam that wisdom can take hold [only] in the realm of thought, a realm where folly has no grasp. Wisdom can exist in thought because it is spiritual; folly, on the other hand, cannot, for it is [more] material. Folly has no existence until it materializes and becomes embodied in speech. Silence is an expression of thought; it is the language of wisdom. This is what Elifaz meant when he said. There was silence, and I heard a voice (Iyov 4:16). And when two hears unite in silence, they can hear a voice passing from one to the other.”
-An Angel Among Men: Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, by Simcha Rav (trans. Moshe Lichtman), pp. 371-373

“Someone once asked the Heilige R. Nachman of Breslov, ‘How loud should a person yell when he davens [prays]?’ And R. Nachman answered, ‘You have to pray so loud that nobody can hear a thing…’

“You know, all the Holy Masters had different ways of giving over their exalted teachings to their chasidim. Sometimes they gave formal lessons or Torah discourses, Or maybe they’d clothe their message in the form of stories or parables. But there was one Rebbe, the Heilige R. Menachem Mendel of Vorka, the younger son of the Holy R. Yitzchak Vorker, who was different than all the rest. Not only did he never give classes, he mamash hardly ever spoke at all. R. Mendele taught through silence. And so he was called the Silent Tzaddik, the Silent Rebbe.”

Lamed Vav: a collection of the favorite stories of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, p. 267

Rav Dovid Cohen, The Nazir

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