15 November 2016
This week’s parasha, Vayeira, is filled with action, dialogue, suspense and, most intriguing of all, silence. One of the most famous scenes of the Torah – the Akedah, or the Binding of Isaac – takes place in this week’s reading, and we are struck by the silence. In contrast to Abraham’s vehement argument with God early in the reading to save the souls of Sodom, he is peculiarly quiet when later commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. And what of Isaac’s silence? Not only doesn’t he object to being bound and nearly killed, but afterward, the Torah does not record another conversation between father and son.
One of my earliest memories of a popular song is Paul Simon’s 1964 classic, “The Sounds of Silence.” I was – and remain – struck by the dichotomy of silence and sound; by the absence of noise and the fullness of understanding. Countless commentaries have been written on the Akedah, all seeking meaning from this difficult lesson about faith. Some derive meaning in the silence as well, arguing that Abraham’s silence indicated that he was so deeply focused on his relationship with God that it enabled him to hear the voice of the angel commanding him not to harm Isaac. Silence enables us to hear what’s really important.
As someone with a hearing loss, silence is a fact of life for me. Knowing the difference between hearing – or not – and understanding – or not – I am attuned to the nuances of communication, such as body language and facial expressions. I am grateful for technology which enables me to hear, and cognizant of its limitations. I have come to accept – and even appreciate – silence and even enjoy the creative freedom I have to “fill in” some of the missing spaces.
Perhaps, “…the words of the prophets are [indeed] written on the subway walls and tenement halls…and whispered in the sounds of silence.”