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The Sound of Silence #713

02/11/2022 06:29:00 AM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Tetzaveh 
“On its hem, make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around.” 
(Exodus 28:33)

A Time for Silence

About 10 years ago, archeologists working near the City of David in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery.

A little gold bell, a half-inch in diameter, was pulled from the ruins of an ancient drainage channel that once ran alongside Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Archeologists celebrated. But religious scholars rejoiced even more because the discovery of this 2,000-year-old bell confirmed an ancient account described in this week’s Torah portion.

The Torah recounts how Judaism’s ancient priests (Kohanim) wore colorful and elaborate clothing as they performed their official duties in and around the holy temple.

And, attached to the priests’ tunics were 72 little gold bells, offset by alternating cloth pomegranates that encircled the hem of the priests’ robes.

God commands the Kohanim in the Torah“On its hem, make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around.” (Exodus 28:33)

The idea of these little gold bells has captured the imagination of many Sages, with some seeking to find meaning in why these 72 gold bells and 72 cloth pomegranates were aligned in that manner.

The great Sage, the Baal HaTurim (1269-1343) offered an explanation, which perhaps, now more than ever, can help each of us live more meaningful lives.

As he reflected upon this seemingly obscure commandment, he noted that, “There is a time for noise, and a time for silence.”

Otherwise stated, “Bells make noise, pomegranates do not. We need to alternate them.”

As we assess our lives in 2022, it is hard to escape the fact that we are surrounded by noise. We are inundated with commercial messages on television, radio, and the Internet, and even while we pump gas or stand in line at the grocery checkout.

Social media has become so mainstream, that so many feel compelled to post every action, every emotion and every passing thought on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms.

“I have to work late tonight. Grrrr.” “I’m going out for sushi tonight. Yumm.”

Do we really care, and is all this noise really necessary?

I recall some years ago attending a workshop where the facilitator noted, “These days, too many have become obsessed with sounding interesting, when they should be making a special effort to be interested.

The facilitator, quoting Ecclesiastes, noted — “There is a time to speak and a time for silence.”

Has society lost its capacity to balance the two?

When a friend or family member comes to us with a concern or a fear, should we aggressively suggest a solution — or should we take time to listen and understand the feeling?

When we see a glorious sunrise or sunset, must we take a photo of that precious moment and post it on Facebook, or is that a time to observe God’s handiwork, and quietly absorb the image into our being?

Those little bells on the hem of the priest’s garment reminded the Jewish people that there is a time to chime in — and another time to embrace reflection.

Perhaps too many today feel compelled to ring their own bells when they should be listening. Conversely, during these extremely complex and challenging times, are too many standing back in silence — when they should be making noise?

Do we need any more relevant examples than a series of events that recently occurred both nationally and locally?

The memories of those who perished in the Holocaust are now being used as talking points by television personalities, or those expressing heated opinions at school board meetings or podcasts.

Anti-Semitism is currently growing at a rampant rate. 

How should we respond? Have we achieved the right balance between voicing our outrage and remaining silent? Or, are we using our limited energy to express our voices in the most selfish and self-absorbed ways?

The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–1572) noted that there are four kinds of objects on this earth — rocks, plants, animals and “the speakers.”

We are the speakers. 

It is estimated that in a given lifetime we will speak an average 860,341,500 words. Some more, some less. 

Perhaps some theologians are correct when they suggest that we are assigned a certain number of words in a lifetime. Ever more reason to distinguish between when we chime and those periods when we reflect.

This week, as I reviewed the Torah portion, I thought about the priest, who — more than 2,000 years ago — was walking to work in his robe of blue, purple, and crimson with a hem of gold bells and cloth pomegranates.

The priest stumbles on a stone and one bell unhooks from his garment, rolls into the ditch, and sits idle for 2,000 years with a sacred message.

There is a time to sound our bell and a time to quietly observe and reflect.

Perhaps today we should — amidst the noise that surrounds us — find the time to embrace mindfulness and prayer. Are we including enough of that in our lives?

For while there is joy in words, there is prophesy in silence.

The great poet, Paul Simon, once observed how “the people bowed and prayed to the neon gods they made.” But, he also noted that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.”

The discovery of that tiny gold bell reminds us there is beauty in refraining from noise, and a responsibility to use our words wisely.

Indeed, there is peace and prophesy in our most quiet times.

That little bell reminds us — 2,000 years later — that there is value to finding time for reflection and prayer. Those can be the most meaningful moments of all.

“Whispered in the sound of silence.” 

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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