The Sounds of Silence
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS VAYEITZEI
“The Sound of Silence”
Ya’akov Avinu gets married in this week’s parsha. When he did, Ya’akov thought that he was marrying Rochel, but in the morning he realized that he had married Leah (Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:25). Rashi (ibid) cites the Gemara in Megillah (chap. 1, “Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 13b) and in Baba Basra (chap. 8, “Yesh Nochalin”, pg. 123a) which says that Lavan intended on switching Rochel for Leah. Since the bride would be heavily veiled, Lavan knew that he could pull it off. Therefore, Ya’akov had given signs to Rochel so that he could identify her under the chuppah.
However, when she saw that Leah was being forcibly taken by Lavan to marry Ya’akov, Rochel realized that Leah would not be able to respond properly to Ya’akov’s signs while they were under the chuppah. Ya’akov would rip the veil off of her face and Leah would be publicly humiliated as an imposter in front of the entire town. In order to prevent Leah’s public disgrace, Rochel divulged the signs to her sister.
It was in the merit of those signs that Rochel gave to Leah which served as the reason why Hashem listened specifically to Rochel’s voice and to Rochel’s weeping when she begged Hashem to have mercy on His children even though they had sinned and were exiled to live amongst enemy nations.
The verses which support this idea are found in Yirmiya where it says, “A voice is heard on High, wailing, bitter weeping, Rochel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled, for they are gone. Hashem said, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your children will return to their border’” (31:14-16).
Moreover, it was Rochel’s tears and prayers which caused her to not to be buried next to Ya’akov in the Machpeila Cave in Chevron. After she died, Hashem had instructed Ya’akov to bury Rochel on the side of the road so that when the Jews would march down that road as they were being kicked out of Eretz Yisrael by Nevuzaradan (Nevuchadnetzar’s general and chief executioner), Rochel would emerge from her grave and pray that God have compassion on them (Rashi, Parshas Vayechi, 48:7, based on Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayishlach, 82:10). It was because of Rochel that Hashem promised to redeem the Jewish people eventually.
We are going to see where Rochel got her strength from to the point that it was her tears and her voice that would bring about the Geulah.
The Gemara in Meseches Yoma (chap. 1, “Shivas Yamim”, pg. 9b) tells us that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews had committed the three cardinal sins: idolatry, immorality, and murder. However, the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were guilty of Sinas Chinum (baseless hatred for each other). We see from this that Sinas Chinum is tantamount to the three cardinal sins combined.
The Ba’alei Mussar (commentaries on ethics) have suggested that the way to rectify the iniquity of Sinas Chinum is to go in the opposite direction and embrace Ahavas Chinum (baseless love for each other). This means that unconditional love is the way to nullify baseless hatred.
Rochel possessed this quality of Ahavas Chinum. We find this trait in Rochel from the Midrash in Eicha Rabbasi (preface 24) which tells us that Rochel waited for seven long years to marry her chasan, Ya’akov, while he worked as Lavan’s shepherd in order to gain her hand in marriage.
Imagine how excited Rochel was when her wedding day finally arrived, and yet, her hopes were dashed, for Lavan substituted Rochel with Leah. Seeing that Leah would be publicly embarrassed by not being able to provide the signs, Rochel gave the signs to Leah. Not only that, but that night, after the wedding ceremony, Rochel hid under Ya’akov’s bed. Whenever Ya’akov spoke, Leah kept quiet while Rochel responded from underneath the bed so that Ya’akov would not be able to detect Leah through her voice.
What Rochel did for Leah was motivated by an unconditional love that she had for her sister. It was this Ahavas Chinum which has the power to nullify Sinas Chinum. Therefore, Hashem promised to redeem us, who still suffer from a galus that was caused by Sinas Chinum, specifically in the merit of Rochel on account of her Ahavas Chinum. It was Rochel’s Ahavas Chinum that gave her prayers and tears so much strength.
There is another aspect of Rochel’s personality which lent such strength to her tearful prayers. This will become evident from the following Midrash.
The Tanchuma (Parshas Vayeitzei, 6) tells us that during the seven years that Ya’akov worked for Rochel, he sent her gifts. However, Lavan took those gifts away from Rochel and gave them to Leah. Although this was aggravating to Rochel, she kept silent and did not tell anybody about what Lavan was doing. Not only did Rochel adopt the practice of silence, but so did her son Binyamin.
Although Binyamin did not participate in the sale of Yoseph, he knew that his brothers had sold Yoseph. Yet, Binyamin did not say a word about this to Ya’akov. This is why Binyamin’s stone on the Choshen Mishpat was “Yashfey” (Jasper; Parshas Tetzaveh, 28:20). The word “Yashfey” is spelled: yud, shin, fey, and hey. When split in half, “Yashfey” becomes two words which are: “Yesh Peh” (there is a mouth). Meaning, Binyamin had a mouth. This means to say that if Binyamin wanted to, he could have opened his mouth and snitched on his brothers. However, just as his mother Rochel adopted the practice of silence, so did Binyamin know how to keep his mouth shut.
Another descendent of Rochel was Shaul Hamelech who was from Shevet Binyamin (Shmuel Aleph, 9:1-2). Shaul also adopted the practice of silence. We can see this from the time when Shmuel anointed Shaul as King of Israel. Although Shaul was excited to share this news with his uncle, he kept it quiet because Shmuel had instructed him not to tell anybody yet (Shmuel Aleph, 10:16).
Another descendent of Rochel was Queen Esther who was from the Tribe of Binyamin (Megillas Esther, 2:5-8). Esther also adopted the practice of silence. We can see this from the verse which tells us, “Esther told nothing of her relatives or her people” (Megillas Esther, 2:20).
So far, we have established that Rochel and her descendants mastered the art of silence. But to put things into perspective, we must point out that man also possesses the power of speech (Parshas Bereishis, 2:7; see Onkelos there). The gift of speech is extremely important because with it one can describe to another what his needs are. In this way, his needs can be met. Another productive use of the gift of speech is to learn Torah, teach Torah, pray, and offer words of encouragement to lift another person’s spirits.
It turns out that man possess two opposing forces. They are, the power of speech and the power of silence. How can we strike a healthy balance between these two opposing forces? Koheles provides an answer to this question when he says, “A time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). In other words, it’s all about timing.
Sometimes keeping quiet is harder than speaking up. For example, the Gemara in Meseches Yoma (chap. 2, “Barishona”, pg. 23a) says, “Concerning those who are insulted but do not insult others, who hear themselves disgraced without replying, about them the verse says, ‘And let those who love Him be like the powerfully rising sun’” (Sefer Shoftim, 5:31; towards the end of Shiras Devorah). This Gemara is comparing the power of silence to the power of the sun.
In order to concretize this idea, I would just like add that the Torah says that the dogs did not bark at the Jews as they departed Egypt (Parshas Bo, 11:7). Therefore, we are told to repay dogs until the end of time by throwing them any treif meat that we might have. However, we also know that the frogs jumped into hot ovens, and died from the heat, during the Plague of Frogs in Egypt (Parshas Vaeira, 7:28). Yet, we do not find the Torah instructing us to repay the frogs for their sacrifice. Why not? One answer is that it is harder to keep your mouth shut than it is to jump into a fiery furnace. In order to emphasize this point, we feed the dogs but not the frogs.
This is why Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “All the days of my life I grew up amongst the Sages and I have found nothing better for oneself than silence” (Pirkei Avos, chap. 1, “Moshe Kibel”, Mishna 17). The Shvilei Pinchas explains this statement by saying that if a person misuses his faculty of speech to utter forbidden words, he damages this tool. Then, when he tries to use the same tool of speech to teach Torah to others, it will not have such an impact on them.
But when a person keeps his lips zipped when he is supposed to, such as refraining from speaking Lashon Hara, his power of speech is strong because this tool has not been damaged. Then when he does open his mouth to teach Torah, it will have a tremendous impact on the people he is addressing.
This was the secret to the success of those Sages that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel became familiar with when he grew up. Those Sages did not speak when they were not supposed to speak. Therefore, when they finally did open their mouths to teach Torah, their words had a tremendous impact on their disciples. After all, Rebbi Akiva said, “A protective fence for wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avos, chap. 3, “Akavia”, Mishna 13 or 17, depending on the version of Pirkei Avos).
Based on the relationship between silence and speech, the following pasuk will take on even more meaning. Yitzchak had said, “Hakol Kol Ya’akov Vihayadayim Yidei Eisav” (the voice is Ya’akov’s voice, but the hands are Eisav’s hands; Parshas Toldos, 27:22).
The Shvilei Pinchas makes an observation. The first word “Kol” in this verse is spelled missing the letter vov, whereas the second word “Kol” in this verse has the letter vov in it. The missing letter vov in the first “Kol” represents a missing voice, i.e., silence. However, the letter vov which is present in the second “Kol” represents a voice which is present, i.e., speaking. Yitzchak meant to say that when Ya’akov masters the art of silence and the art of speech, then Eisav’s hands will have no power.
Silence is so crucial to Torah study that “limited conversation” is a necessary item (the twenty-first one) found on the list of forty-eight ways of acquiring the Torah (Pirkei Avos, chap. 6, “Kinyan Torah,” “Bereisa d’Rebbi Meir.” Bereisa 6).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Rochel’s prayers were so powerful. It is because she possessed the power of silence and the power of speech. On the one hand, Rochel was silent all of those years that Lavan gave Leah the gifts that Ya’akov had sent to Rochel. On the other hand, when Leah was about to be publicly embarrassed, Rochel opened her mouth and told Leah what the signs were.
Since Rochel possessed the power of silence, she also possessed the power of speech to such a degree that Hashem chose her prayers over those of Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, and Moshe’s (Eicha Rabbasi, Preface, 24).
The same thing was true of Binyamin. Since he mastered the art of silence by not revealing to Ya’akov what the brothers had done to Yoseph, Binyamin had the power of speech as was indicated by his stone “Yashfei,” which means “Yesh Peh.” Meaning, that when Binyamin wanted to use his power of speech to pray, it would have an effect. After all, the Kodesh Hakadashim rested on Binyamin’s territory. The headquarters of Tefillah was situated on Binyamin’s land to teach us that Binyamin had the power of prayer.
Identically, the same was true of Esther. Since she mastered the art of silence by not revealing to Achashveirosh anything about her family and people, Esther also possessed the power of speech which would impact others in a powerful way. This was apparent from the time that Esther chose to speak up. When Esther finally said, “[There is a] man who is an adversary and an enemy, [it is] this wicked Haman (Megillas Esther, 7:6), it went straight into Achashveirosh’s heart. The next thing you know, Haman was hanging from the gallows.
Before concluding, there is one more aspect of Rochel’s personality worth pointing out because it will add another dimension as to why the Final Redemption will happen specifically because of Rochel and her prayers.
Based on Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun mem, pg. 80a) the Shvilei Pinchas says that both Rochel and Leah were concerned about being forced to marry Eisav. Leah thought to herself that Rivka had two sons, whereas her (Rivka’s) brother, Lavan, had two daughters. It would seem fitting that the older daughter, Leah, would marry the older son, Eisav, whereas the younger daughter, Rochel, would marry the younger son, Ya’akov (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:17, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 70:15).
However, Rochel was also concerned that she may wind up being Eisav’s wife. This is because Rochel said to herself that Eisav had already sold his birthright to Ya’akov. That made Ya’akov the halachic firstborn, which made Eisav the halachic second born. Therefore, it would be fitting that the older daughter, Leah, would marry the older son, Ya’akov, whereas the younger daughter, Rochel, would marry the younger son, Eisav.
Therefore, when she gave the signs to Leah, Rochel had no idea that she would wind up marrying Ya’akov anyway. In her mind, Rochel thought that she would have to marry Eisav. When she gave those signs to Leah, Rochel was prepared to throw her life away into the garbage can by sealing her fate to marry the monster, Eisav.
This was an incredible act of Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice). Since Rochel was prepared to fall into the hands of Eisav, Hashem paid her back, measure for measure, by decreeing that the descendants of Eisav would fall into the hands of the descendants of Rochel (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 73:7, Reb Pinchas in the name of Rebbi Shimon bar Nachman).
Therefore, we will be redeemed from this last exile specifically in the merit of Rochel. This last exile is called “Galus Edom,” and Eisav is called “Edom” (Parshas Toldos, 25:30). Since Rochel was ready to fall into the hands of Eisav/Edom, Edom will fall into the hands of Rochel’s descendants.
There are three main points which emerge from this teaching. They are: 1) Ahavas Chinum, 2) the power of silence and the power of speech, and 3) Mesirus Nefesh. So, practically speaking, let us try to improve a little bit more in our Ahavas Chinum. “How can we do that,” you ask? One concrete way of achieving this is to exercise, with Mesirus Nefesh, the art of silence when we have criticisms of others.
In most cases, we are probably not the ones in the position to criticize, nor do we necessarily know how to criticize properly. Probably, our criticism will have the opposite effect on those we are trying to correct.
Therefore, let’s just keep our mouths closed when it comes to dishing out criticism, and instead, let us exercise the power of speech by giving compliments, even to those within whom we have found criticisms. Let us focus on the other person’s positive qualities and compliment him on them. We will be surprised at how much improvement will be made by lifting another person’s spirits.
This is one key to success in the realm of Ahavas Chinum. It is to stop criticizing others, and instead compliment others. This alone will breed more and more appreciation and love for the other fellow.
So, may we all be blessed with the wisdom to know when to speak and when to remain silent, which will cultivate an even greater love for each other, because then we will all become the spiritual children of Rochel into whose hands Eisav will fall, and subsequently our brothers and sisters will return to their borders within which we will live peacefully in the Messianic Era.