Mashiach and Jewish Leadership: Part 4 – Silence in Speech

When viewing the world correctly as a reflection of the Torah (and not the opposite), it follows that the overall concept of leadership as well as its present crisis, and the connection of rectified speech to leadership must both have their source in the Torah itself. The fourth of the five books of Moses, Bamidbar, is commonly referred to as Numbers, due to the counting of the people in the first portion of the book. On closer inspection we find that although Bamidbar literally means “in the desert,” its root, dabar, means “speech.” One of the recurring themes of the book is the ongoing leadership struggle taking place throughout the forty years in the desert. All of these conflicts are expressed in primordial dialogues and monumental debates between the different personalities.

Paradoxically, when envisioning a desert, one usually thinks of a great barren expanse and penetrating silence. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs were all shepherds, tending not only flocks, but their own faith in the one G-d. On the holiday of Succot, we invite into our succot the sevenushpizin or shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Each of these leaders cultivated their expression of leadership within the meditative quiet of the desert. Many of the prophets as well found the desert silence the perfect environment for prophetic experience.

A period of silence leading to the potent speech of a leader is contained in the most mysterious word of the Bible–chashmal–described by Ezekiel in his vision of the chariot: “And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great cloud and a fire flaring up and a brightness was about it, as it were the color of electrum (chashmal) out of the midst of the fire.” Like the Sages, who understood that chashmalwas not just a color but an energy, modern Hebrew translates it as “electricity.” Dividing the word by syllables produces two contradictory concepts–chash (“silence,”) and mal (“speaking,”), alluding to the state of rectified speech that follows the quiet, meditative preparation of silence. On an even deeper level it describes a simultaneous state of “silence” within speech and “speech” within silence.

The idea of inclusion of speech within silence is illustrated in the life of Elijah the prophet. After fleeing the wrath of King Achav and his wife Izebel, against whom he had prophesied concerning their evil ways, Elijah escaped to the desert of Sinai: “And behold G-d passed by and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before G-d–but G-d was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake?but G-d was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire–but G-d was not in the fire; and after the fire a still (silent) voice. And when Elijah heard it he wrapped his face in a mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” This “silent” voice is the manner in which G-d reveals Himself to each and every person; according to their merit and readiness to hear G-d’s personal message.

In close parallel to his concept of submission, separation and sweetening, the Ba’al Shem taught that the two stages of chashmal are connected by a third, intermediate level of malseparation, (mal, as in the root of the word milah, meaning circumcision, or cutting off), producing a construction of chash-mal-mal. These two complementary progressions correspond in the following manner:

silence chash
submission hachna’ah
separation mal
separation havdalah
speaking mal
sweetening hamtakah

With regard to leadership, we see many times that a leader is initially unable to naturally express himself or his unique mission. The desert conceptually represents the mental “space” wherein the spark of leadership, dormant within each individual, has the opportunity, like a desert plant, to grow despite forbidding desert conditions. The desert provides a natural atmosphere of separation and isolation. It provides “space” for deep contemplation and meditation, the silence needed before the leader is revealed–first to himself and G-d–and only later to his people. It is also the place where G-d, in many cases, reveals Himself to the potential and sometimes unsuspecting leader. In Kabbalah and Chassidut, the inability to express oneself represents exile, while free flowing expression represents the essence of redemption.

The entire month of Nissan revolves around the theme of exile and redemption, slavery and freedom. These energies manifest themselves on the historic, psychological and spiritual level for every individual throughout the ages. The Passover Seder and the text of the Haggadah, read on Passover night, were conceived to give full expression to the commandment to remember and speak of our deliverance from Egypt. TheHaggadah, which means “to tell,” reflects the spiritual attunement of the Sages, who crafted a formal ritual expressing the full range of emotion and intellect present in every generation.

The phenomenon of a leader first experiencing a period of “dormancy” or “silence,” only later to be revealed as a leader, is present to some degree among almost all Biblical heroes. More apparent than any others, though, are David and Moses. Both these examples direct us to another important facet of leadership–G-d seeking out a leader for His people. In the case of David, G-d commands Samuel to find a replacement for Saul, who had not followed G-d’s orders regarding the war with Amalek: “And G-d said to Samuel: How long will you mourn for Saul seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and go, I will send you to Yishai of Bet-Lechem, for I have provided for me a king among his sons.” It is further written in the book of Psalms concerning David: “I have laid help upon one that is mighty, I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant….”

The discussion at the burning bush where G-d at first patiently, and in the end more sternly, explains to Moses his role as leader, stands out as a prime example of G-d appointing an initially resistant individual to take such a public role. This in itself points to a further paradox?the prototype of the Jewish leader as a more private, introverted person, who by nature does not seek fame or glory. It is precisely this type of individual that G-d seeks out to lead His people

This model of leadership in comparison to modern society is striking. Today one “learns” political science or “goes into” politics as a profession, sharpening those skills that will allow him or her to compete in the world of money and power. In Jewish thought leadership is a responsibility that one may need to assume, but it is never a means to fulfill a need for power or self aggrandizement.

Solomon was only twelve years old upon assuming the throne from his father David. After consolidating his kingdom, G-d appeared to him in a dream in which He invited Solomon to request something for himself: “And now my G-d, You have made your servant king instead of David my father, and I am but a little child…Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people…” G-d responded: “Because you have not requested riches and honor but only that which would benefit all the people, I will give you not only an understanding heart like none other before or after you, but riches and honor like no other king in your days.”

Diametrically opposed to the example of Solomon is that of Adoniyahu and his bombastic declaration, “I will rule,” as mentioned above. Our Sages confirm in many statements that honor eludes one who aggressively pursues it and “crowns” the one who does his best to avoid the illusive trappings of power. If a person is truly destined or fitting for leadership, then opportunities will present themselves in a natural and organic way. This is shown by the word “wisdom,” chochmah, that when permuted forms the word “to wait,” mechakeh.

One is reminded of the manner in which the Communists came to power in Russia in 1917. While numerically they represented only the smallest of ideological minorities, they seized power and imposed a seventy year, iron fisted reign over their entire region. Any regime or “revolution” that comes to power in such an unnatural way is bound to eventually collapse under it’s own self-imposed delusions of grandeur.

The historical dynamic as just described mirrors a much deeper reality. Kabbalah speaks of a world of Tohu or “chaos” preceding the world ofTikun or rectification, our present state of reality. According to the Arizal, the world of Tohu broke apart due to the inability of its vessels to contain and mutually share the Divine light flowing into them, thereby causing their own destruction. The book of Genesis describes eight Edomite kings “who ruled before a king ruled in Israel.” After the name of each king it states: “they ruled and they died.” According to Kabbalah, these kings represent the “breaking of the vessels” in the world of Tohu. False leaders and ideologies are similar in that they too eventually “break” and fade away. Only concerning the last king does it not state: “he died.” This king alludes to the world of Tikun. Significantly, only the wife of the last king is mentioned, thereby alluding to the sense of inclusion and ability to share, represented by the world of Tikun.

While the book of Bamidbar contains many stories relating to leadership, it is the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings in the section of the Bible called the “Prophets,” that describes in great and sometimes gory detail the ongoing leadership crisis that appears and reappears throughout Jewish history. While the potential for true and authentic leadership presents itself repeatedly throughout these books and despite the fact that there were a number of honest, G-d fearing leaders, the general rule was one of egocentric and destructive individuals, lacking the most fundamental prerequisite of leadership, the submission to G-d’s will as revealed in Torah. The final result of unrectified leadership was the destruction of the first and second Temples.

Of all the leaders in the Bible, it is King David who shines forth as the paradigm of a true Jewish leader. Even his shortcomings and trials bring out a redeeming factor worthy of emulation. Only to David did G-d promise an everlasting kingdom and only from his seed will Moshiach sprout forth. Deep within the complex nature of the soul of David lies a simple, all-encompassing submission to G-d. From that undiluted point, the composite soul of Israel is vividly expressed through the rectified speech of David, as revealed in the book of Psalms, the crowning legacy from the “sweet singer of Israel.” In the future it will be Moshiach son of David who sings the tenth and last archetypal song of Creation–“a new song to G-d.”


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