Cultivating Calmness (Bo)
Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time. -Thomas Carlyle
Nine plagues have devasted Egypt. There is one more plague coming. But this plague will be the deadliest. It will leave no home unscathed. The Death of the Firstborns. Every firstborn in every home in Egypt would be stricken. This plague would be so rampant, that even the Jewish slaves were warned about it. Even though the plagues had come to Egypt for the purpose of freeing the Jews from their bondage and they had been spared so far from the effects of the plagues, they were nonetheless warned about this one.
God warns the Jews to take a most unusual precaution. They are to slaughter a sacrificial lamb, the Pascual Lamb (Pesach) to be specific. They will take some hyssop, dip it in some of the sacrifice’s blood and spread it on the doorposts and lintels of their homes and not leave their homes the entire night, while the plague would ravage the rest of the country. They would roast and eat of the lamb, together with unleavened bread (Matzah) and bitter herbs (Marror). That moment is what we have celebrated continuously for more than three millennia at the Passover Seder. That moment of devotion and first moment of obedience and worship of God is when a multitude of slaves become the Jewish nation.
The Bat Ayin on Exodus 12:7 delves into the wording of “blood” (dam in Hebrew) and “homes” (Batim). The Hebrew word “dam” has the same etymology as “quiet” or “silent.” He refers us to the description of God’s encounter with Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12) which uses the same root of “dam” or in this case “demama” to describe the quiet voice:
“And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire—a quiet murmuring sound.”
Elijah found God in the quiet. The Bat Ayin explains that whenever a thought occurs to us to speak, our first reaction should be to pause, to be quiet and ponder the impact our proposed words will have. In that pause, in that moment of silence, is where we find God. And there comes the connection between the word “dam” silence and the word “batim” homes. By calmly thinking through what we will say, we build the letters in our mind. We are building homes for those thoughts and words and ideas. We are building a more thoughtful communication that takes the unique advantage of having a moment of divine contemplation.
May we learn the value of quiet and use it to enhance our communications.
To the hospitality of the community of Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale.