When was the last time you sat in silence? The last time you simply sat somewhere, and didn’t pull out your phone, didn’t turn on the tv, didn’t turn on the radio or a podcast, didn’t call a friend or family member to talk? The last time you listened to the world around you, to the sounds of a clock ticking, or the cars going by, or the breeze, or your own breathing? When was the last time you had an experience of silence, surrounded by other people? It’s a pretty rare occasion. Perhaps we might experience this communal silence on a Friday night or Saturday morning, at Shabbat services; perhaps at a yoga or meditation class.
I will never forget the evening I went to the movies and had a little more unexpected encounter with a moment of communal silence. I went to see American Sniper, a powerful and at times disturbing film, and when the end credits began, the music started up and images of the man on whom the film is based appeared on the screen. That lasted for a couple of minutes and suddenly the music stopped as the rolling credits began. Silence filled the theater. Not a single person in that jam-packed movie theater moved a muscle. We sat together in silence, watching the credits on the screen. And one by one people began to leave, but still in total and utter silence. I’d never experienced anything like this at the movies before and something really deep down inside me was reached. I know I wasn’t the only one because that night, I got home and went online and saw that message boards were filled with people commenting on this rare and incredibly powerful moment of silence that ended this film.
Now our rabbis knew a thing or two about silence as well. And they tell in a midrash the story of when we, the Israelites, received the Torah. They say that at the moment God gave us the Torah, the entire world fell silent. No ox made a noise. No bird chirped. In fact, even the angels fell still and silent for this most important communal moment.
We know, just as they did, the ability of silence to connect us to our self, to one another, and to what is true in just this moment in time.
Dr. Rachel Noami Remen, a pioneer in the mind/body holistic health movement, shares her understanding of this most important gift of silence. She writes, “Perhaps the most important thing that we bring to another person is the silence in us. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone just as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence, we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing. Silence is God’s lap.”
Kein yehi ratzon. May these words be worthy of coming true for all of us.