Sounds of Silence

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

The Torah world is stunned by the sudden and tragic loss of the beloved and venerated Gadol HaDor, Harav HaGaon R’ Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.
Unparalleled in his Torah knowledge, unequaled in his diligent devotion to the study of Torah, and incomparable in his devotion to people and their needs, we are at a loss in fathoming how we can move forward without his guidance and encouragement or exist without his protective extraordinary merits.
There are moments when in the face of trauma, we become paralyzed and defeated. Aharon found himself in a similar predicament, faced with the unexpected death of his illustrious children who G-d Himself testifies are among those ‘nearest’ to Him, and remains silent. Was this merely a testament to his accepting tragedy with utter faith or might there be more than just silent submission in this moment of profound quiet?
There are four strata of life forms: דומם — inanimate / mineral; צומח — plant /
vegetable; חי — life / animal; and מדבר — speaker / man.
Man’s stature is defined by his ability to express himself verbally.
This appellation of honor conferred on man is that of מדבר, literally a talker or speaker.
Does that define him properly?
Aren’t his actions louder than any words he could elegantly utter?
Why do we focus specifically on that quality?
True it is the faculty of speech that is unique to man, but more so is his ability to make choices exercising his free-will that ultimately determines more accurately his greatness. Speech is merely a tool that displays the underlying character, not the defining quality itself.
Even more perplexing is the accenting of this trait in the episode of Nadav and Avihu,
when Aharon after the tragic death of his dear sons, his greatness is expressed not as
much by what was ‘spoken’, but by what was squelched.
The exact depiction here isוידם אהרן — and Aharon was silent.
A similar use of this term is found in Eichah.
ישב בדד — Let one sit in solitude, וידם — and be silent, כי — for,נטל עליו — He has laid it upon him. (איכה ג כח)
Ostensibly this verse describes one who has met misfortune who silently sits alone bemoaning the fate that has befallen him.

This verse though is interpreted in Pirkei Avos as referring to an individual who is bereft a partner to study Torah with, who despite his isolation nevertheless devotes himself to thoughtful meditation and is promised a reward that ‘He has laid upon him’. (אבות ג ג)
The Chosid Yaavetz expands the understanding of this in a most profound way.
This is not simply a promise of reward for simply forging ahead to study despite his loss of a partner.
In the verses preceding, the prophet describes an idyllic world.
Verily, the kindnesses of the Lord never cease! Indeed, His mercies never fail! They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul; “therefore I will hope in Him.”
This, the Chosid avers, refers to a society who devote themselves to striving for perfection collectively, supporting one another in that goal.
But then the verse transitions to one who suddenly finds himself alone and isolated, discouraged in his ability to accomplish his noble goals solo.
To him the prophet encourages, The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him, even while feeling abandoned.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
G-d is good to those who place trust in Him. Even when you feel dejected and lonely, know that in your devoted silence you will persevere. Be ennobled by the fact that the mission, נטל עליו— is placed upon you. G-d knows that you are capable and is
counting on you to achieve your destined greatness!
The Chosid concludes with a message directed to us:
נחמה גדולה היא ליחיד ההוא כי נטל עליו קיום העולם, כי צדיק יסוד עולם, וא”כ הוא נוטל
שכר כאילו היה רבים העוסקים, וכמ”ש עד שבא אברהם אבינו ע”ה וקבל שכר כולם…
It is a great consolation to that isolated individual, that the sustaining of the world is contingent on him, because the righteous one is the very foundation of the world, and he is therefore deemed as if many are toiling together, as it states regarding Avraham our Father, peace upon him, ‘until he came and received the reward of them all…
The Holy Baal HaTanya interprets the term מדבר, not as one who speaks, but rather in the spirit of the root, דַבָּר, which means to ‘lead’, accentuating a person who ‘leads the entire universe by his credo and deed’.
In the face of tragedy, especially loss, one often gets discouraged, forgetting one’s mission in life, mistakenly assuming one can’t do it alone. The greatness of Aharon wasn’t that he felt no pain, but that he maintained his momentum in knowing that each one of us alone is responsible for our fate, to elevate the universe towards devotion to that One above that beckons us towards personal greatness.
In the silent marching forward, tackling the tasks at hand with a resolve that despite our losses we can each bring the world to its purpose, even alone, lays our greatness that gives us the right, nay the privilege, to utilize the strata beneath us in bringing us ever closer to G-d.
Rav Chaim was a man of limited spoken words, yet in that silence resonated the thunder of Mount Sinai, expressing a message that penetrated all who entered his sphere. His forging ahead ceaselessly in conquering vast regions of Torah in its full depth should serve as an inspiration to us all.
We each have a mission, perhaps more so in his absence, to silently move incessantly forward with the confidence that we can do it, each in our own way, in sustaining the world.
We must stay on track no matter what comes our way, knowing He has faith in us to accomplish our goals. May we never lapse in having faith in ourselves.

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