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    When silence speaks louder than words – Sh’mini

    Life is full of the unexpected.

    On a day of joy and fulfilment, Aaron and his family are suddenly plunged into deep tragedy as his sons Nadav and Avihu bring “strange fir” to the altar and are summarily struck dead.

    What is Aaron’s response? Vayidom Aharon – “And Aaron was silent”. A simple phrase full almost incredible self-restraint.

    We would have expected a bitter outburst. We would have thought Aaron would have cried out with uncontrollable grief and hurled words of anger at God and fate. But no: “Aaron was silent”!

    Instinct must have told Aaron the advice of Kohelet, that there is a time for everything: a time to be silent as well as a time to speak.

    Eloquent as speech is, silence can be even more expressive. Especially in time of bereavement, when the Perek says one should not try to bring comfort – comfort, that is, in over-use of words.

    Deep emotion needs no words, and quietly being there at the side of a dear one or friend is better than all the trite remarks that make the pain even worse.

    Even in time of joy it is not necessary to talk too much or even to talk at all when the occasion can speak for itself. Those drawn-out toasts at celebrations are far less effective than simply sitting and enjoying the beaming faces of the ba’alei simchah.

    In life generally silence is often good advice. Noise surrounds us (and not just aircraft noise). We are bombarded by decibels. They make normal conversation impossible (try to chat with fellow guests at a simchah when the band has the volume turned up to excruciating levels). Everywhere, noise makes it impossible even to think.

    No wonder Elijah, when he needed to sort himself out after a political upheaval, withdrew into the desert with its kol d’mamah dakkah, which is usually translated “still, small voice” but probably means “sound of thin silence”.

    You need silence in order to think great thoughts, in order to be creative, in order to find yourself, in order to pray.

    Yet… if there are times when silence is better than speech, there are also times when it is destructive and cowardly.

    Instead of taking others for granted in stony silence, we need to be able to speak words of love and gratitude. Instead or disdaining others by ignoring them, we need to heed the Perek which says, “Be the first to offer a shalom to other people”.

    When you sit in indifference and apathy and hold yourself back from responding to events, movements and people, you need to stand up and speak up and say, “I support your cause!”

    When evil begins to flourish, you need the courage to break the conspiracy of silence and to utter a resounding Dayyenu!

    The wise King Solomon said “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”… There are times when you bring life by not using your tongue, but there are times when to let your tongue remain silent is to endanger life, peace, goodness and truth.

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