The Soundness of Silence
By Rabbi Label Lam
They reported to him and said, “We arrived at the Land to which you
sent us, and it indeed flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
But- the people that dwells in the Land is powerful, the cities are
fortified and very great and we saw there offspring of the giant….”
What had the spies done so awfully wrong that the Nation of Israel was
denied entry to the Holy land for forty years? A great deal of ink has
been used trying to explain their tragic flaw and unconscious motives, but
it may really boil down to one word. Which word might that be?
Years ago I had the honor and privilege to hear the following story from
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus ztl. He told us about a fine young man that had
earned a marvelous shidduch –marriage match with a prominent family. This
young man was an only child born to his parents after twenty-four years of
marriage. Rabbi Pincus ztl. had asked the father if he had any sense of
why they merited to have a child that year. Had there been any unusual
incident? This was his story:
After twenty three years of childless marriage and approaching the edge of
despair the husband did what amounts to an act of desperation. He had
heard that on the other side of Jerusalem there was a small Chassidic
Synagogue that held out a special promise. Anyone who would attain for
himself on the holy day of Yom Kippur the honor of Mafir Yonah their
request would most certainly be answered in the affirmative. So with not
much more than that hope he uprooted himself from his usual place in the
Yeshiva where he had a seat of honor, and traveled to unfamiliar territory
where he would be a stranger on a back bench. He arrived early enough on
the eve of Yom Kippur and arranged with the one in charge and secured for
himself for a hefty price the coveted Maftir Yonah.
After Kol Nidre and all the evening prayers while exiting the synagogue he
noticed another young man like himself also not dressed like a Chassid
seeming slightly out of place. He approached and asked him why he was
praying here in this particular “Shteibl” for Yom Kippur. The young fellow
told his tearful tale that he and his wife had been married for almost
three years and they had not yet been blessed with children. He had heard
that whoever would attain Maftir Yonah in this Synagogue would be granted
their heart’s desire and he hoped to put in a modest bid for Maftir Yonah
the next day.
The man just listened with astonishment. He could have slammed him with
the sad news that he had already locked up the important honor for himself
and made a good case why he was more needy and deserving but he rather
said nothing. He just picked himself up and left returning to his place on
the other side of Jerusalem. That year his wife was expecting and she gave
birth to their child. He felt that he his deepest wish was granted that
year not because he got Maftir Yonah but rather because he didn’t say a
word and he let someone else have it instead.
Sure the spies had all kinds of hidden reasons and agendas but none of
that became relevant or was actually punishable until they spoke out what
should not have been said. If they would have remained disciplined in
their speech, then no harm would have been done, but when they said the
word “but” their world began to unravel. Whenever I get an invitation to
speak I have a strong sense that the host is less concerned that I know
what to talk about and more worried that as a speaker I should not say
something offensive or inappropriate. If only the spies could have held
back, and not said that one extra word, who knows what blessings may then
have flowed like milk and honey in the merit of the soundness of silence.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.