An Eloquent Silence
If ever there was anyone caught between a rock and a hard place it
was the Jewish people on the shores of the Sea of Reeds. With their
backs to the churning waters, they watched in wide-eyed horror as
thousands of Egyptian chariots thundered towards them, murderous
steel blades flashing in the sun. Desperately, the people plunged into
the depths of the sea, and wonder of wonders, Hashem parted the
waters and led them through to safety.
At this transcendent moment, their hearts filled with joy and
gratitude, they burst into a thrilling song of praise which the Torah
records verbatim. In one of the most passionate lines, they cry out,
“Who is like You among the lords, O Hashem?” The Sages perceive a
deeper dimension in this declaration. The Torah uses the Hebrew word
eilim for lords, and the Sages detect in this an allusion to the Hebrew
word ilmim, silent ones. Accordingly, the Jewish people were also
saying, “Who is like You among the silent ones, O Hashem?” This, the
Sages explain, was a prophetic reference to the destruction of the
Second Temple and the devastation of Jerusalem by the evil Roman
general Titus, who desecrated the sanctuary and spilled rivers of
innocent Jewish blood while Hashem remained silent.
The question immediately arises: Why choose the occasion of the
splitting of the sea to mention Hashem’s silence during the holocaust
that destroyed Jerusalem?
We all know that when we go through periods of anguish we are
inclined to feel alienation and anger towards Hashem - even if we
ordinarily strive for high levels of faith and observance. Enough is
enough, we scream silently. How can You let us suffer so much pain?
And this feeling of abandonment, irrational as it is, just makes the
suffering that much worse. Wouldn’t our suffering be more bearable if
we could see Hashem watching over us throughout our ordeal, if we
realized that, even in His silence, Hashem does not abandon a single
person to random fate.
At the Sea of Reeds, this realization struck the Jewish people with
great clarity. For so many years they had suffered the cruel agony of
Egyptian shackles, their backs bent in backbreaking labor, their hearts
and spirits shriveled inside their tortured bodies. It seemed as if the
Creator had forgotten them. But now, in the most stunning miraculous
display, He had split the sea to lead them to safety. Suddenly, they
realized He had been watching over them all along, that His love for
them stretched back hundreds of years to the Patriarchs. The pain and
suffering had been an indispensable feature of the “iron crucible” of
Egypt in which the Jewish people were molded and formed. From the
perspective of hindsight, their suffering was not random, and the silence
was very eloquent indeed.
As this important revelation sunk into the Jewish consciousness
beside the sea, they realized how important it was to remember it for all
future trials and travails. There would undoubtedly be other times of
divine silence in the face of Jewish suffering and misfortune. But if the
Jewish people would have the wisdom to perceive the benevolent
presence of the silent Creator they would be able to accept their lot with
courage and hope, and their suffering would be mitigated. Even during
times of such profound darkness as the destruction of Jerusalem by the
evil Titus, they would not fall victim to despair.
A young boy was wheeled into the operating room for a serious
procedure. He was frightened but all alone. He yearned for the
comforting hand of his father, but his father had been barred from the
sterile operating room.
I want my father, the boy thought desperately. I want him here.
But his father did not come, and the boy was terribly upset and
resentful. How could his father abandon him at this time, the most trying
of his entire life?
The operation was successful, and the boy was returned to his
room. There stood his father, tears streaming down his face. He hugged
and kissed his son with a greater outpouring of love than ever before.
“My son, my precious son,” he said. “How sad that you had to be in
that operating room all by yourself, but I was in constant touch with the
doctors. You did not leave my thoughts, not even for a moment.”
In our own lives, all of us go through difficult periods at one time or
another. Grief and suffering are part of the very fabric of life. But the
way we deal with them is up to us. If we recognize that our warm and
loving Father in Heaven pays meticulous attention to every minute detail
of our lives, that He is with us constantly even in our darkest moments,
we can find peace and serenity that are not vulnerable to the
vicissitudes of life.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.