Rabbi Yehuda of Kefar Giboraya, and some say of Kefar Gibor Chayil, taught: What is the meaning of that which is written: “For You silence is praise” (Tehilim 65:2)?
The best medicine is silence. When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael to Bavel, he said: In the West [in Eretz Yisrael, which is west of Bavel] they say: If a word is worth one sela, silence is worth two. (Megillah 18a)
The best medicine is to refrain from saying many words. (Rashi)
No matter how far you push your fingers into your ears, you can still hear sounds. That’s why there are noise cancelling headphones.
No matter how strongly you pinch your nose, some odors will get through. That’s why there are gas masks.
No matter how tightly you close your eyes, some light will penetrate. That’s why there are blindfolds.
When you close your mouth, not even closing it tightly, no words can escape unless you are a ventriloquist.
If silence is accomplished so easily, what makes it so hard? Why do we so often speak when we know our words are landing on deaf ears, when the Gemara tells us that silence is twice as valuable as speech, when the Mishna tells us that there is nothing as good as silence: [Rabban Gamliel’s] son Shimon says: All my life, I grew up among the sages, and I found nothing better for a person than silence. (Avos 1:17)?
If silence is good for the sages, how much more so for the unlearned. (Avos d’Rabbi Nasan 22:2, Pesachim 99a)
According to the Midrash Shmuel, this Mishna is not limited to silence when it comes to material concerns, the guf. Even though it seems logical that we gain wisdom by speaking, asking and answering, and debating, this is nonetheless, not true. The “fence” by which we gain wisdom is silence. This is what the son of Rabbi Gamliel meant [in the above cited Mishna]...[Silence] is the only fence for wisdom, nothing else. (Midrash Shmuel on Avos 3:13)
Rabbenu Yonah explains that silence is necessary bein l’midosehah bein l’chochma atzmah,both for the acquisition of wisdom and for the preservation of wisdom.
While acquiring wisdom, silently listen without interrupting and admit when you do not know something. These habits lead to the acquisition of wisdom.
Preserve wisdom by silently listening to your teacher rather than listening to your own thoughts, ideas, and challenges to what he is saying. If you don’t do this, you will lose what your rebbe is saying...because your mind is focused on what you are thinking. (ibid)
This is the difference between silence and silent listening. We can be silent yet be focused on formulating a response rather than focusing on what is being said. Silently listening means paying attention to what is being said, focusing solely on the person who is speaking. That is hard to do when we begin with the premise that we will have to have something to say. It is easier when we believe that our compassionate, undivided attention, is what the speaker truly needs from us.
Silence is hard because we don’t know how valuable it can be, how much it can convey.
Too often, we equate silence with absence. Rav Pappa taught differently.
Rav Pappa said: The reward [for visiting] a house of mourning is for the [visitor’s] silence. (Berakhot 6b)
Silence is not absence. We must learn to trust the value, the healing effect, of our silent presence. When someone is hurting and we say to ourselves, I don’t know what to say, the best words to say are, I have no words, and then be silent.
Our deepest emotions lie too deep for words. We experience silent communion.
The silence that counts, in Judaism, is thus a listening silence—and listening is the supreme religious art.
It is fascinating that despite his often fractured relationship with Judaism, Sigmund Freud created in psychoanalysis a deeply Jewish form of healing. He himself called it the “speaking cure,” but it is in fact a listening cure. Almost all effective forms of psychotherapy involve deep listening.
Is there enough listening in the Jewish world today? Do we, in marriage, really listen to our spouses? Do we as parents truly listen to our children? Do we, as leaders, hear the unspoken fears of those we seek to lead? Do we internalize the sense of hurt of the people who feel excluded from the community? Can we really claim to be listening to the voice of G‑d if we fail to listen to the voices of our fellow humans?
(From: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/
Therapy is the listening cure. Are we expected to provide psychotherapy to our loved ones? Certainly not. We are, however, enjoined to provide them with therapy in the origin sense of the word: therapeutikós: attentive, helpful, curative. Chazal have taught us that silence is therapeutic, often more so than any words we could say.
Silence is an expression of respect. Respect for another’s feelings. Respect for another’s ability and need to work their way through difficult emotions at their own pace. And respect for the value of our silent, caring presence.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.