Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi YY Schochet

Is Silence Golden?

Dear Rabbi

Growing up my mother used to criticise me for talking too much and used to tell me I should learn when to be quiet. I think it’s because I heard that all the time that I’ve become much more the quiet type, even among family and friends. My wife often asks me, “why are you so quiet?” and gets annoyed when we’re out with family or friends and I spend most of my time listening rather than talking. I’m wondering whether that’s necessarily a bad thing though. I thought silence is a virtue. What do you think?



Dear Benny

Obviously communication helps establish and strengthen bonds between individuals, fostering a sense of connection and intimacy. But, you’re right. Sometimes silence is golden as well. Rabbi Shimon in Ethics of the Fathers said that he grew up amongst many great people and he learnt that the best thing is silence. I think you need to find a balance and learn when to communicate and when to stay quiet. Here’s my top ten tips of when silence is golden: 1) definitely be silent in the heat of anger because in such moments the tongue reacts faster than the mind and you’re going to end up saying something that you’ll regret. 2) Don’t say anything if you don’t know the full story. Jumping to conclusions, as we’re all wont to do, can cause misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict. 3) Stay quiet is you know your silence can help save a relationship. Not everything your thinking needs to be vocalised. 4) Definitely stay quiet when you cannot speak without raising your voice. 5) It’s always advisable not to talk when you’re feeling too emotional to be rational. You’ll end up saying the wrong things. 6) Stay silent when you know the words you are going to use are going to be critical and destructive. 7) It’s is definitely beneficial to stay silent when listening and letting the other person be heard is more important than you doing the talking. 8) Stay shtum when there may be an ulterior motif to what you want to say. Sometimes quiet introspection is more worthwhile. 9) It’s good to stay quiet if the atmosphere is tense. 10) I’ll stay quiet at this point and let you fill in whatever you feel is suitable for number ten.


Can You Hear What I’m Saying?

Dear Rabbi

At the giving of the Torah as we read on Shavuot, we are given a detailed account of what transpired. In the midst of it says: “And all the people saw the voices…” I learnt that this means they saw what is normally heard. What does that mean? Seeing sounds is not something we can experience, at least when we’re sober. It seems absurd to even imagine. Is it just poetic licence?




Dear Suzie

It’s not poetic license at all. One 16th century commentator explained what we now know, that every word we utter produces sound waves. Usually we lack the tools to detect the waves, but at Sinai they indeed could see the physical manifestation of the sound in the air. What’s the significance of that you wonder?

Sometimes what you’re saying and what the other person is hearing is not the same thing. What you tell your spouse, your child, your colleague, and what they heard you say can be very different. Which is why I must always have the humility to understand not just what I am saying, but to learn what the other person is hearing, what the other person is experiencing. I need to “see the soundwaves” and tune into their frequency.

Can you muster the courage to tune into another’s soundwaves? And even if you can’t, can you have the integrity to at least understand that there is another frequency and other people are hearing different things based on their interpretation or life experience? Do you know how many fights can be avoided between people, if only we could see the soundwaves whereby I can appreciate that your perception of exactly the same reality is completely different than my own?

No two shared experiences are the same. No two results are the same. Do you know why G-d enabled the Jews to “see the sounds” at Sinai? They could see the soundwaves. They could see why some people would hear one thing while others would hear something else.

Torah was given in order to perpetuate peace in the world. “All its ways are ways of pleasantness and its pathways are to peace.” The only way there can be real peace is if I can appreciate the many diverse frequencies in which different people experience different realities and address each person according to his or her frequency.

The message of Shavuot is that they “saw the sounds.” Know that no two perceptions are the same. Even as you can’t see things from another perspective have enough humility to respect that there is another perspective. That’s the underlying purpose of the Torah and how we will experience enduring bliss as G-d intended in His world.