YomTov, Vol. IV, # 6
The Sound of Silence
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
There is a widespread custom to study Pirkei Avos during the weeks between
and Shavuos. The lessons in Pirkei Avos, known also as the Ethics of the
contained for the most part in the tractate Avos, one of the books of the
distinguishes Avos from other tractates is the topic and focus of the book.
dealing with legal precepts, it deals with how one should lead his or her
lessons from our Sages, the ethics of our Fathers, are lessons for all time.
In the first chapter (Mishna 17) we find that Shimon, the son of Rabban
Gamliel used to
say: All my days I grew up among the sages, and I have found nothing better
person than silence.
The virtues of silence are mentioned in other places as well. The Talmud
states that A word (is valuated) for a sela (a monetary unit), but silence
(is valuated) for
two sela's. Why is silence worth more than speech? Why is there nothing
better for a
person than silence?
The Shelah explains we find that the above lesson from the tractate of
applied even to the words of Torah. Why is this the case? When a person is
the study of Torah or prayer, the person is in essence standing before G-d.
standing before G-d, we have to be composed. We have to carefully contemplate
we are about to say. Our expressions should be clear and focused. Silence
allows us the
time to pause and reflect on what we are about to do. It provides us with an
opportunity to prepare ourselves so that our words are the most effective
they can be.
Rather than speaking off the cuff and engaging in discourse that may be less
substantial, we need to be silent for a bit. After we have engaged in some
contemplative silence, we are ready to speak effectually.
It is customary, throughout the world and in many cultures, to remember those
are no longer with us with a moment of silence. Silence, in Jewish law, is
with mourning as well. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh De'ah 376:1) writes that
who come to comfort a mourner should not speak to the mourner until the
first speaks to him. The reason for the silence, the Aruch HaShulchan writes,
is that our
comfort of the mourner is to aid him in understanding the passing of his
loved was was
an act of G-d, and a just action. We must comfort him in his moments of
Before we can comfort, the mourner must indicate that he recognizes what
was G-d's will. In days of old, a mourner used to begin his conversation with
"Dayan HaEmes," "G-d is the true judge." He indicated that he accpted the
of G-d, and then he allowed others to comfort and strengthen him.
The silence that comes before any conversation with a mourner gives both the
mourner and the comforter time to reflect on the situation. The mourner has
loss, and perhaps his faith has been shaken. The comforter is visiting a
provide him with support and strength in a moment of weakness. By not
engaging in pointless chatter, both mourner and comforter have an opportunity
prepare themselves for the dialogue. The mourner does not have to stifle
mourner does not have to be social. The mourner need not even talk if he does
like it. The comforter has to be prepared for his visit with the mourner. He
is there not
to distract the mourner from what happened. He is not there to provide
He is there to help the mourner deal with the issues that the mourner wants
Silence allows both mourner and comforter to collect their thoughts, and then
meaningful, purposeful conversation.
We are now in the midst of the Sefira period. Traditionally, this time period
is one in
which we observe customs associated with mourning. Tragedies befell the Jewish
people at this time of the year, and we commemorate the losses appropriately.
HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day was April 23. Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial
Day for those that gave their lives in the defense of the State of Israel,
was on April 29.
While memorial services and speeches help us focus on the losses we have
can use another tool the Sages have indicated is useful: silence. We can take
time out to
remember what happened to us, whether we understand it or not. We can take the
time to focus our thoughts on how we can strengthen our faith in G-d in the
tragedy. We can take the time to contemplate what needs to be said about the
tragedies, and how to say it. Silence affords us these opportunites. Silence
is truly good
for the person. And to rephrase the words of the Talmud quoted above, silence
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.