Finding God in Silence
According to some studies high noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects in humans and an increased incidence of coronary artery disease. I would also add that the absence of silence can have a negative impact on our spirituality.
We live in a time in which technology has filled our lives with all sorts of tunes, music, melodies, and sounds. Our own singing is not heard any more: families no longer sing together, they just play a CD. We can watch any TV show whenever we want on the internet, there is no need to call my father and ask him to record for me a TV program that I will not be able to watch because I have to study for an exam. We walk in the street or travel on the bus with headphones, we even have lost the curiosity about other passengers’ conversations on the train. Our days start with the sound of an alarm and end with a late TV show. Some of us live in cities with high noise pollution. This lack of quietness has silenced our own voice, it has isolated us from others and broken a bridge between us and the divine.
The Bible tells us about the relevance of silence and quietness: “My soul waits for you in silence” (Psalm 62:6), “The Lord will fight for you and you shall be silent” (Exodus 14:14). This is especially important in order to hear and understand: “ There was silence and then I heard a voice” (Job 4:16). We are told in the first book of Kings how God is not in big manifestations or phenomena: God is not in the great and strong wind which rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks; He is neither in the earthquake. “And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so when Elijah heard it.” ( 1Kings 19: 12-13).
This week we read the beginning of the Book of Bemidbar/Numbers. This book deals in great measure with the laws and history of the Tabernacle during Israel’s years in the wilderness. Ramban notes striking parallels between the Tabernacle and the Revelation at Sinai. This means that as they had been very close to God at Sinai, the Tabernacle could also be a means to being very close to the divine presence. In other words this is about learning how to have a close relation with God. Where does this learning experience take place? Bemidbar, in the wilderness.
The Hebrew word midbar, wilderness, has the same root as the word dabar/davar, meaning “word” or “thing.” It has the same letters as medabber, “speaking.” It is in the wilderness that the Israelites hear revelation, the word or speaking of G-d. And what is one of the main characteristics of the wilderness?: QUIETNESS. It is through silence that we are able to listen and to understand. Ibn Gabirol (Spain 11th Century) said: “The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the forth practice, the fifth teaching others”.
May we find in our busy and noisy lives, time for quietness, time for silence in order to listen and to understand, to practice and teach others. May we find peace for the soul and we will hear, and we will see.
The Little Prince said: “I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune. Sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through silence something throbs, and gleams…”1
May we experience in silence what the Israelites lived in the desert. Let us create in our daily life a little Sahara where to encounter the divine.
LBC rabbinic student Haim Casas
1 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “The Little Prince” .