Listen to the Silence

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May 29, 2022

4 min read

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If you want to encounter God, you need to experience silence.

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. To celebrate, many stay up the entire night studying the Torah, and as part of the morning services, the portion of the Ten Commandments is read from a Torah Scroll.

The Ten Commandments continue to occupy a prominent place in American culture. They are a keystone document of Jewish and Western morality.

How were they given at Sinai?

The Bible records that immediately before God uttered the Ten Commandments, there was thunder, lightning, and the increasingly loud sound of a shofar. But at the moment that the Torah was given, the world was silent. "The birds did not chirp, the angels stopped their song, the waves of the sea did not crash upon the shore, and no one spoke." (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 39:9)

The Ten Commandments were uttered with a background of absolute silence.

This experience of silence appeared again in the Bible when Elijah the Prophet had a spiritual revelation of God. He stood at that same Mount Sinai where the Torah had been given. He first experienced a whirlwind, followed by an earthquake and then a fire. However, God informed Elijah that none of those tempests represented the actual revelations of God. Instead, God was to be found in the thin still voice that followed, the sound of silence (Kings I 19:11-12).

This concept is emphasized further by the fact that the Ten Commandments were given in the Sinai Desert. A desert is a place of silence and where there is nothing visually to distract you.

If you want to encounter God, you need to experience silence.

"All of humanity's problems stem from a person's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." Blaise Pascal

Silencing the background din of life is a tremendous challenge. Our society is inundated and driven by distraction. The world is filled with flashing colors and a cacophony of noises. Silence is absent. We’ve banished it from every area. We have speakers in subway cars and buses, music playing in grocery stores, and podcasts to listen to as we drive. Auditory stimulation is so needed that we use white noise to sleep and musical alarm clocks to wake us up.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, "All of humanity's problems stem from a person's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." Taking time for silence provides insights and clarity.

As a child, the Seer of Lublin (a famous 18th Century Hasidic master) would go off into the woods by himself. When his concerned father asked him why, he responded, “I go there to find God.” His father said, “But, my son, don't you know that God is the same everywhere?”

“God is the same,” the boy said, “but I'm not.” It was in solitude that he was able to connect spiritually.

A recent YouGov poll measuring the impact of the Ten Commandments on American values showed that more than 90 percent of Americans agree that the commandments regarding murder, stealing, and lying remain fundamental societal behavior standards. Other commandments that enjoy strong support include not coveting, not committing adultery, and honoring parents. But less than half of Americans (47 percent) say keeping the Sabbath holy is still important — the lowest level of support for any commandment.

Yet, this concept of Sabbath observance provides that very opportunity to achieve internal focus. To experience the Sabbath, we shut out all the distractions of the world. We turn off our devices, set aside our work, and spend the day experiencing that which is most valuable – our lives, our families, our connection to God.

Making the time to experience silence, whether through observing a Sabbath or taking a device-free walk or drive of quiet, uninterrupted thought, gives us the gift of Sinai. In silencing the noise of life, one can hear the messages that emanate from within our hearts and minds.

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