Kohanim: The Original Shushers

There’s all this fuss about being silent in Shul.

Trust me I know all about it and then some. Those who don’t shush and suffer in silence. The ones who shush and suffer publicly. Those feeling compelled to speak just because and the ones who stand back amused by all the drama.

I heard all the righteous arguments and interesting perspectives that I couldn’t ever imagine.

It’s true, how can you expect people to restrain the love for each other after not seeing or speaking for a week long?

I know that back in the shtetl, the shul/community center/etc. etc., which was in a small hut at the edge of town had a (2-hour minimum) pre-prayer schmooze which had to take place indoors because it was either too cold or too dangerous to be talking outside. The davening wouldn’t couldn’t start until everyone was all caught up with all the news from around the globe and it was important news. Back then, when golus was strong, life depended on this information.

Back then, in golus times, there was no facetime, email. Let alone WhatsApp or telegram. Shul was where you got all your information.

But we’re not back then and we’re not in a shtetl anymore. In case you haven’t heard, we are well on our way towards the Beis Hamikdash.

Silence was mandatory at the Beis Hamikdash. Not even prayer was allowed. So much so that when the childless Chana came to the temple to beseech G-d for a child, the Kohanim thought she was drunk because they’ve never seen anybody pray on their own accord, let alone silently.

She prayed silently hoping they wouldn’t hear her muttering her grief, because she knew they would make her leave as there was an enforced policy of silence. (Either way it was a double whammy and meant she had to be extracted out of the temple and dealt with accordingly.)

Not even the Kohanim, who were performing the services, were allowed to speak or make any sort of noise.

In the Holy Temple, there were two types of service: The service of the Kohanim and that of the Levites. The Levites served G-d through song, each day composing a new melody praising G-d. The Kohanim served in silence. However great the power of song, it cannot compare to the power of silence. The hush of the Kohanic service accessed the most intimate dimension of the Divine, whose intensity cannot be contained even by the most beautiful melody.

From our limited perspective, sound is louder than silence. From the perspective of true Reality, however, silence is more powerful than sound. Not because G-d is closer to silence than He is to sound, but because silence allows us the ability to rise above our limited perception and senses to experience the sublime.[1]

Talking in a place of worship shows a lack of disrespect to the congregants [and by proxy] G-d the Almighty himself, but more than a sign of disrespect, Speaking in Shul is, unfortunately, a sign of one’s unreadiness for Moshiach, because we would have to be silent at the Beis Hamikdash.

The ability to keep silent anywhere displays confidence, maturity, humbleness and creates an atmosphere of calmness, peace, love and unity. A perfect recipe for G-d.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson

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