silence is praise

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-siddur2Silence is not one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about the davening experience. Any given service is saturated with words, words that one must say to fulfill one’s obligation to pray before God. Still, I cannot help but be struck that the Talmud states that the sages took one hour to meditate before praying (B. B’rakhot 30b). We also know the amidah is closed with a moment of silence (see B.Megillah, Ch. 2). This means silence is an essential feature of preparation for, and conclusion of, prayer.


Why is silence so important for preparation? For one thing, silence enables us to recognize the loudness going on in our heads and gives us the space to quiet that down. Only in silence can we really know how loud we are inside! Second, silence gives us an opportunity to listen to our neshama. Our neshama is always praying, but we can often become so deaf to its voice. Third, silence makes us open to listen to what God may be saying to us. From these three levels of awareness, we are in a position to ask God to open our lips so that we may declare his praise.

Why is silence so important for concluding our prayer? When all is said and done, and we’ve poured every last fiber of our being before God in prayer, there is still so much we did not say. In silence before our king we can stop and recognize that there are no words that can come close to expressing the deepest longings of our hearts or the extent of praise he deserves. We are finite, and silence before him may be the most honest act of worship we could ever engage in. Silence also demonstrates rest and faith in the promise that God has heard our prayers. The silence at the end of the amidah enables us to rest in the awareness that he has it all under control.

It is often said that music is not just in the notes, it is in the space between the notes. The same is true in prayer. The silence between our words lends meaning and depth to the words themselves. Silence is receptive and prayer requires our receptivity as much as it requires what we give over. May we let silence inform our avodah, so that it may be a value that spills over into every quarter of our lives.

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