One of the current terms of religious discussion that I’ve grown to suspect is “spirituality.” I’m tired of hearing people say, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual,” which often means I don’t have any outward signs of religious or transcendent life, but, trust me, I possess many lofty sentiments. In this sense, spirituality refers to something that can’t be measured and might have little bearing on how we actually live. Mussar, of course, is a great remedy to this sort of spirituality. The middah of silence might easily be drawn into collusion with this kind of spirituality, but Mussar restores the balance, usually by drawing upon the wisdom of Scripture.
I tend to be a quiet guy, always desiring to choose my words carefully. I suppose part of this is influenced by people I've met journeying through life who have a lot to say but tend not to deliver.
When you make a vow to the Lord, your God, you shall not delay in paying it, for the Lord, your God, will demand it of you, and it will be [counted as] a sin for you. But if you shall refrain from making vows, you will have no sin. (Deuteronomy 23:22, 23)
It can be an easy thing to treat our failed promises as mistakes that we try to make up, as opposed to outright “sins.” A close friend of mine once told me that saying you will do something and failing is not much different than saying you did something when you didn’t. It seems, at least in our society, that we treat the latter as a lie while the former is more forgivable (even if unfortunate).
Here is where silence comes in. If we don’t promise to do something we cannot do, we are not liable. This is the point of the above verses from Deuteronomy. We oughtn’t use this as an excuse to be excessively noncommittal, but it does caution us to not be so loose-lipped as to promise what we cannot.
Silence is a guard against words that harm others and ourselves. In this way silence is like a precious gift that God gives us to keep us from overstepping our bounds. It can be difficult to keep promises. When one really thinks about the number of things that need to fall in place in between the promises we make and the fulfillment of them it can be rather overwhelming. So let us guard our tongues from saying anything other than what we absolutely mean and absolutely intend to fulfill with caution, and with God’s help.
Silence is one of the great casualties of the digital age. A generation ago, it was already hard to escape the drone of the broadcast media, especially as we started to put a radio or TV in every room and develop portable units that we could take anywhere. Now, in the digital age, it’s much worse, with TV, radio, internet, MP3 player, and much more all lodged within the phone in our pocket or purse.
"Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother, I am God" —Leviticus 19:16
Back in the early 1990's, an unknown figure named Erin Brokovich emerged. She was a single mother of three, working in a law firm in California, who wanted to know what medical records had to do with a real estate file. What she found out led to the biggest settlement on record for a civil class action lawsuit. She discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric was dumping hexavalent chromium into unlined ponds on their facility grounds. It was seeping into the groundwater. It was killing the nearby residents. This story, which later became a film in 2000, was about a sassy, uncompromising woman who felt that the truth needed to be told. Silence was killing the people of Hinkley, California, and enough was enough.