Monday, September 16, 2013

Less Talk is Less Trouble

"And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
'Fools', said I, 'You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you'
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence." - lyrics by Simon and Garfunkle
Perhaps like me, when you read the lyrics to his song or hear it playing over the radio you think, "how poetic, how beautiful, how powerful."  At least that's how I felt until this past Yom Kippur when I took a vow of silence for the day, a tanit dibur. 
Yom Kippur is the highest and holiest day of the year where we, the Jewish people, dress in white, we don't wear leather, we refrain from eating/drinking, we don't shower or brush our teeth, we refrain from marital relations and spend a day in prayer and reflection.  Leading up to this day we prepare by asking anyone who we may have harmed over the past year for forgiveness.  We physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepare ourselves for our meeting with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  We atone.  We afflict ourselves with many physical restrictions for the day and we prepare to ask Gd for another year of life, income, health, love, happiness.  We ask Gd to forgive us for our misdeeds, our broken promises, our gossiping, our selfishness, our transgressions.  I decided to add to this, without much prior knowledge of what I was getting in to, a 25 hour tanit dibur.
For the past few years of living in Israel I have heard stories of people who have completed a tanit dibur.  I honestly just thought it would be a nice break from small talk, not to mention probably nicer than talking to people with unbrushed teeth.  I truly had no idea what was in store for me.

Jeremiah HaNavi (the Prophet) compared speech to an arrow.  Once an arrow leaves the bow, it's gone.  The same applies to words.  No matter how deeply you regret saying something, once you said it, it has been said and it's out in the world.  Shelomo HaMelech (King Solomon) says that even a foolish person who is silent is considered wise.  If someone doesn't speak you will not find out how foolish he really is.  When a person thinks he's performing a very spiritual act, his Neshama is at work, and many times you have great ideas and they should be spoken, but think for a moment that you are taking something that is entirely spiritual, a thought, and turning it into a physical thing, a word.  When you think, you are in control of your body, but when you speak, your body is in control of you.

"Woe is to a man who lets something come out of his mouth who doesn't understand how he is saying it!  Every word that comes out of your mouth is written and recorded whether for good or for bad. (Midrash Tanchuma).  Can you imagine the scene in [Heaven] when they play everything you said?  You will realize that there are many things that you said that you wish you didn't!  The Zohar says that when a person is born, HaShem gives them a certain amount of words for a lifetime and after they use up that number, they cannot speak anymore!"

The bottom line is; How can you learn if you never listen!?  The Kotzker Rebbe says that our egos stand between us and HaShem, we speak so people will know how funny and smart we are.  Work on perfecting yourself on the inside and don't worry so much about what everyone else thinks. 

So I spent the day in silence.  

Thanks to a suggestion from a friend of mine, I made a card stating: "I'm sorry, but I'm in a tanit dibur. May you be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year."  If anyone tried to speak with me, I placed my hand on my heart as an apology and I showed them the card. 

A day of silence.  Can you imagine?  The only words I spoke were in prayer and repentance.  I "unplugged" and disconnected myself from my cellphone, computer, radio, iPod...small talk... everything.  One day of just me and just Gd. 

For me, someone who takes part in formalized and traditional prayer services, it seems to struggle at times to stay focused.  I mean, how do you make someone else's words meaningful each and every time you pray?  Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it becomes mechanical.  Then when I try to speak my own private prayers from their heart, I often get side tracked and start thinking about the millions of other things I could be doing with my time.  *Sigh*  It's incredibly difficult to pour your heart out to Gd and to say what it is that you're sorry for, how you messed up, to ask for forgiveness, and to potentially ask for a few things that you need for the coming year... especially when we may suddenly develop ADD and the way the curtain is blowing next to the fan suddenly becomes much more interesting. 

Lets face it, we all do it sometimes.  We try to create a relationship with the Kadosh Barachu, but how do you create that connection with an intangible entity?  We're finite creatures attempting to have a conversation with Infinity.  I say, you should talk to HaShem like He's your best friend; tell the Holy One everything.  Easier said than done though.  I can sit here, close my eyes and say, "Ok Sarah, now's your chance.  What do you want to say?"  Only to draw a blank.

This Yom Kippur, my vow of silence (except in prayer) manifested into the greatest spiritual high and connection that I have ever felt.  The whole day was like a meditation.  Without the distractions from the outside world I found myself banging on my chest and saying every word of Viduy (Confession) with zeal that I've never felt before.  I stood before the Heavenly Court and chanted, "We have been guilty; we have betrayed; we have robbed; we have spoken slander.  We have committed iniquity; we have committed wickedness; we have sinned willfully; we have extorted; we have made false accusations.  We have given advice that is bad; we have been deceitful; we have scorned; we have rebelled; we have provoked [Gd's anger]; we have strayed; we have been iniquitous; we have sinned rebelliously; we have caused distress; we have stiffened our necks.  We have been wicked; we have been corrupt; we have committed abominations; we have gone astray; we have scoffed..."

As the day wore on (the hottest Yom Kippur Israel has had in 50 years, mind you) I weakly stood, energy dwindling, for the last hour and half of my fast and listened to the Chazzan's beautiful voice leading us through Nehila services.  I suddenly found myself uplifted.  24 hours and 45 minutes into a fast and vow of silence and I felt renewed, an extra burst of energy running through me.  I sang "Avinu Malkainu (Our Father, Our King), be gracious with us, and answer us, though we have no worthy deeds; treat us with charity and kindness and save us".  I yelled out with my congregation, "Shema Yisroel HaShem Elokanu HaShem Echad - Hear O Israel, HaShem is our Gd.  HaShem the One and Only".  At the sound of the last shofar blast... I was then transformed, energized and uplifted towards a different realm of personal clarity. 

The congregation burst into song and dance, "Next year in Jerusalem! L'Shana Habaa B'Yerushaliym!"  I bless us all that we may merit the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  I bless us all with peace, tranquility, love, laughter, health, and happiness. 

I sit now at the doorstep of Sukkot, the feast of the fall harvest.  Now, after having spiritually cleansed ourselves we will move outdoors into our temporary dwellings for the next week.  We will eat, sleep, and enjoy our friends a family in a temporary booth made of cloth, wood, and palm branches.  As we lie out under the stars, enjoy the moments of silence.  Listen to the crickets, listen to nature, listen to yourself.  Under the stars we can ponder Infinity and if we're lucky, hear it...

The sound of silence.