Nothing Better for the Body than Silence

In the end of this week’s Torah reading, Miriam, the sister of Moshe (Moses), was punished with tzara’at (a unique skin disease) for speaking disparagingly about Moshe. In reference to this incident, The Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 5:5) applies a verse from Kohelet (5:5) which says. “Do not allow your mouth to afflict your flesh.” The Midrash interprets this verse to be referring to Miriam, who inflicted her flesh with tzara’at, by using her mouth improperly.

The Midrash continues and emphasizes the importance of silence, which prevents such mistakes from happening. The Midrash quotes the Mishnah from Pirkei Avot (1:17) which says, “Shimon his son (of Raban Gamliel) says, ‘My entire life, I have been raised amongst the Sages, and I have not found anything better for the body than silence.’” Avot D’Rebbe Natan (chapter 22) adds, “This was said for the wise, and how much more so for the foolish.”

Make Silence Your Profession

Rabbeinu Yonah notes that this advice is obviously not referring to harmful speech, or speech that is partially harmful and partially beneficial, because it wouldn’t require Rabbi Shimon to make a statement about such an obvious matter. The Mishnah must therefore be encouraging us to refrain as much as possible from engaging in discussions which contain no harm. And even if a person is discussing important matters which produce only benefit, the Mishnah is telling us that one should limit his speech and refrain from talking more than necessary.

On this topic, the Talmud says (Chulin 89a) that one should make it his profession to be like a mute. The Chofetz Chaim (Shemirat Halashon, part 1 chapter 1) ponders what the Talmud is alluding to by saying that it should be a “profession.” The answer the Chofetz Chaim offers is that a profession by nature requires a lot of practice. No one becomes a professional in any field by practicing sporadically. So too, one cannot expect to properly exercise the trait of silence by merely holding back inappropriate speech when the need to do so arises.

In order for one to be proficient in the art of silence, one must practice in advance even when it is not absolutely necessary. If a person is not used to holding back his words, he is liable to slip up and not be silent when he should. In order to practice silence well, one must practice in advance, as one practices to become professional at a given skill.

Beyond the Imagination of Angels

The Vilna Gaon says (in Igeret HaGra) that one should work his entire life on being silent, for controlling one’s words is more valuable than other forms of restraint and fasts. And one who becomes accustomed to practicing proper silence, spares himself from many great sins. The Vilna Gaon adds a remarkable statement and says that for every moment that one controls himself and refrains from saying things he is better off omitting, he merits a great hidden light of such magnitude that is beyond the imagination of even the greatest angels.

No Cholent!

A man in Monsey, NY, met a divorced fellow who was saddened about the fact that he wasn’t allowed by his ex-wife to attend his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The man offered to make a separate, grand celebration to commemorate the Bar Mitzvah for the father, in the synagogue, on Shabbat.

This lifted the father’s spirits immensely, and after the man made the arrangements, he mentioned to the gabbai (attendant of the synagogue) that he will serving cholent. The gabbai interjected and said, “You cannot bring cholent. It makes a big mess.” The man wanted to serve cholent to enhance the celebration, and committed to arrange for someone to clean-up the mess.

A Long-Awaited Baby

On Shabbat, when the gabbai saw that cholent was prepared, he physically blocked the exit from the kitchen to prevent the cholent from being served, despite the fact that arrangements were made to clean up afterwards. Some boys, however, figured out a way to slip the cholent out, and served it. When the gabbai saw this, he became enraged and threw a plateful of cholent at the man who arranged the celebration, and attempted to physically remove him from the synagogue.

When the man came home, his wife realized something was amiss. She found out from her son what had happened, and she became very upset. But the man said, “Let’s not discuss it, and have this serve as a merit for our neighbor who is married for seven years without children.” A year later, the neighbor had a baby boy.

More Practice, More Benefit

We cannot begin to imagine the power of silence. We may not think of silence as an especially important virtue, or as a virtue at all. But as we see, our Sages taught us differently. Silence is a tremendous virtue which carries incredible merit. It may be too difficult to refrain completely from engaging in idle speech, but that doesn’t mean we should allow our mouths to speak freely. The more we practice the art of silence, the more benefit we bring to ourselves.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

Please follow us and share:

Want constant access to online Torah and Jewish resources?

First Name: 
Last Name: 
Leave a Reply