Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )
Sometimes a person's silence can be more powerful than a thousand words. We see in this week's Torah portion, that Aaron, Moses' brother, was faced with a very difficult situation where he could have been tempted to speak angry words against God and man. Yet, as the Torah teaches, "Aaron remained silent." He was able to control his tongue, and accept his situation in dignified silence. We too, can tap into the power of silence, refrain from angrily speaking out when insulted or hurt, and reap the rewards that such self-control can bring.
In our story, we learn of a boy who wins the battle of the tongue.
It was a cool, windy day, and rain was drizzling on and off from the gray skies. But Larry White, the goalie for the Fordsville Day School Lions soccer team, was feeling pretty hot under the collar.
The Lions were in the middle of a tight game with their main rivals, the Lakeshore School Rangers. But it wasn't the pressure of the game that was bothering Larry; he loved the action. Rather it was this one, obnoxious, loudmouthed Ranger fan who had planted himself as close to him as he could. He was barraging the boy with every type of insult and put-down he could think of.
Larry wasn't the type to take insults sitting down, and he soon started giving the noisy kid back some of his own medicine, and then some.
It was late in the game, which was tied, 2 to 2, and Larry readied himself to prepare for the next play. Once again, he heard the now-familiar voice of the loudmouth piping up with some particularly nasty comment. But this time, as Larry turned to answer back, he suddenly heard the whoosh of a speeding soccer ball whizzing past his head. He rushed to turn around, but it was too late.
"Goal!!" cried out the Rangers, and their happy fans.
"Oh no!" cried Larry. "How did I ever let that happen?"
He scanned the crowd and cringed at the smiling face of his tormenter. "I'll bet that's just what he wanted," Larry thought angrily.
The game resumed, and not long after, the Lions scored a goal to tie the score once again.
"Okay, time to really concentrate," Larry told himself as the action resumed. But just a moment later, the obnoxious fan was calling out to him again, now worse than ever.
Larry was about to answer back. He would really give it to him this time! But then he had a second thought. "Wait a minute ... what am I doing? Last time I turned around, I blew a goal because of it. Should I make the same mistake again?"
Larry kept silent and tried to focus all his attention on the game. But as the loudmouth kept it up even more, Larry felt himself getting ready to turn around.
"No!" he told himself. "Just because this joker wants to shoot off his mouth, doesn't mean I have to shoot back."
He decided to ignore the guy, and keep his position. Larry felt good. Not only didn't he let the kid distract him, but he also felt in control. It was as if the loudmouth had lost all the power that he had had over him until now.
Sure enough, at that moment, one of the Rangers took a blistering shot at the goal. But this time Larry was ready. He deftly dove to his right, and blocked the flying ball from reaching the goal.
"Great save!" shouted his teammates, slapping his back with joy.
Larry smiled back. He was glad he had blocked the shot, and even gladder he had learned how to block his mouth.
Q. How did Larry feel when the Rangers fan first began to insult him?
A. He felt as if he had to answer back with some insults of his own.
Q. How did he feel about this in the end?
A. Larry realized that he really felt much better when he was able to control himself and keep silent. He learned that you don't always have to get the last word in.
Q. What did Larry gain by keeping silent?
A. The most obvious thing he gained was the ability to concentrate on what he was doing, and become a much more effective player. But even more than this, he discovered that in the battle of words, restraint is often the greatest strength. By keeping quiet even in the face of insults, he was able to rise above the situation, and regain his self-control.
Q. Is there ever a time to answer back an insult?
A. Certainly not when we are angry. For then we can almost be sure that we will come to say something we'll later regret. Perhaps after we completely calm down, it might be appropriate to go over to the person privately, and calmly explain how his comment made you feel, and ask him to please not speak like that in the future. The results of this method are usually much more pleasant for everybody. But even this is only worthwhile if you judge that the other person is someone who is capable of listening to reason. If not, better to just let it go.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that "Silence is the protective fence for wisdom." How are these two concepts - wisdom and silence - related?
A. On a simple level, when we are speaking, we're not listening, and if we're not listening, we're not learning. But even more than this, silence allows a person to become more contemplative, and reflect upon the ideas he has absorbed, which often leads to new insights. Silence isn't as some might imagine, a sign of ignorance, but rather it is often a sign of mental maturity.
Q. How can silence in our relationship with God indicate a strong level of faith?
A. There are times in everybody's lives when things happen either to us or around us that just goes beyond our power to understand. The events, which may be quite difficult, force us to confront our faith and our relationship with God. We know and believe that God is good, yet what stands in front of us may seem like anything but good. It is at times like these, which we must tap into the power of silence. This silence is a way of saying to God, "I don't understand You, but I do trust You. And I trust that one day I will come to ultimately see Your goodness even here. But for now I will simply remain silent, as this goes beyond my understanding." This is a very powerful exercise, and a high spiritual level.