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Monday, October 18, 2010

The Value of Silence

I did a quick "Google" on this phrase this morning and I found an article by Rabbi Boruch Leff that is kind of a devotional that he came up with while reading a book called Tuesdays with Morrie.

As one who practices meditation prescriptively I found this Jewish perspective particularly appealing. The question being asked is "Why are we embarrassed by silence? What comfort do we find in all the noise?"

The question got me thinking. Noise lets us ignore our most difficult struggle and our most precious possession: our true and profound selves. Very often, it is painful to face one's true inner core. It is hard to be absolutely honest with oneself. Shakespeare writes in Hamlet, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day," but we often fail in this regard. We fool ourselves, and the noise and distractions of life help us in this effort. Constant external stimuli and occurrences allow us to avoid dealing with our inner being.

When we're alone in the car, do we immediately reach for the radio? Is it any wonder that talk radio is such a booming international business? We are so afraid of silence, so fearful of the opportunity to be with ourselves and penetrate our inner world.

"The vehicle for wisdom is silence" (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:13), as King Solomon tells us, "Closing one's lips makes a person wise" (Proverbs 10:19)

Genuine spiritual heights can only be attained through introspection which only comes by dint of the medium of silence.

Thus Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel says, "All my days I grew up among the wise men, and I have found nothing greater (for the body) than silence" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:17).

How is silence good for the body? Why not say that silence is good for the soul or for a person in general?

The Maharal, a 16th century mystical commentator, explains that man is comprised of body and soul (Guf and Neshama), the physical element and the spiritual. Everything man does has its basis in one of these two dimensions. When one dimension is active, the other is passive. Maharal explains that speech derives from the physical facet of man. When we speak, our physical aspect is controlling us. Silence allows our spiritual dimension to regain control. Since the spiritual mode of man is silence, quiet allows the spiritual to lead the physical, while speaking gives the physical the leading role. The best thing for the body is when it is guided by the soul. Thus, there is nothing better for the body than silence.

Why is speech derived from the physical facet of man? How is silence the mode for the soul? Silence allows us to remove all of the external and physical distractions in our lives and lets us focus upon the essence of our being, the soul.

Though I would go a step further and suggest that our soul, or essence, is really not just isolated to us, but rather connected to the greater interconnectivity of all other things; the value of silence still remains.

Quotation taken from


As a writer I have come to find that one can having three different approaches to writing:

Write what you know
Write what you try to know by entering into another perspective
Make up what you write

In doing each of these there are three more approaches:

Be brutally honest
Be partially honest

In all of these one ends up with their readers having three possible differing reactions:

Being able to totally relate to what is written
Being able to take things in with a grain of salt
Being offended or hurt by what is written

In some ways, I hate being a writer.