Guide to Silence

Two weekends ago, I celebrated the Shabbat with my friend and his family. We learned an illuminating lecture inside the book Torah and Modern Physics by Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsburgh. Throughout this week and this past Shabbat, the lessons we learned guided us to arrive at a action each of us can - and should - take daily. Namely, to practice silence.


Silence has many expressions. It can be a space to access. Silence can be a means to an end and an end in itself. It can be a positive expression, or an expression of fear, or to bury emotions. A person can be in a state of shock where they are silent and expressionless. Another person can be silent amid a person feeling distraught allowing his worries to settle. Silence can be an invitation into stillness. Towards fire silence observes the heat, but does not respond with greater heat. It responds by cooling the situation and getting to the core of the problem.


As our discussion continues, we’ll see - and G-dwilling begin to practice - how to enter silence not to burry or hide, but to listen, to understand, and to reflect. Silence can be and often is our best teacher. We just got to listen.


In order to understand how we got to talking about silence, we must first discuss the lecture my friend and I were learning. There’s a concept in the Gemara called ipcha mistabra which means “the opposite is true.” The term is used when, for example, someone gives an argument to disapprove something, but to another person that same argument actually proves it positive. In other words, the same argument is looked at from a different perspective. While one see’s x to prove a is false, the other see’s x to prove actually a is true. Or said another way, the reason why you think you should not do something is perhaps precisely why you should!


The concept and recording of ipcha mistabra sheds light on the coming of laws or decisions. Rav Ginsburgh discusses how ipcha mistabra comes up 19 times in the Babylonian Talmud, but not once in the Jerusalem Talmud. This alludes to the differences between the Talmuds. Although they arrive at the same laws, this difference highlights how the Babylonian Talmud contains more of the derivation of laws, while the Jerusalem Talmud is more of a revelation of laws. In chassidic terminology, the former corresponds to bina, understanding, and the latter to chochmah, wisdom. Today, when Talmud is studied, to my current understanding, the Babylonian Talmud is studied to help its students learn to think about and understand its line of thinking. Perhaps in the era of Moshiach that we’re continuously arriving into, where we’ll experience great revelation, the Jerusalem Talmud will be studied - or, absorbed.


In bringing an example and further explaining the concept, the author brings in the Gematria of ipcha mistabra. In Torah literature, each letter has a numerical value and therefore each word or phrase also contains a value. The value of a word or phrase can help understand its meaning by relating it to other words with the same value. The numerical value of ipcha mistabra is 815, which is also the value of baal teshuva, “a master of return.“ To understand the connection, a discussion is brought about if teshuva (return) is a prerequisite for geulah, the redemption. In short, one Rabbi in the Gemara, Rabbi Eliezer argues that yes it is a prerequisite, while Rabbi Yehoshua says it is not. However, in diving deep into understanding the discussion, there is no conflict. The Rabbis are actually discussing two different levels of teshuva. Rabbi Eliezer’s argument corresponds to the lower level of teshuva, which emphasizes man’s improvement in the physical world. Rabbi Yehoshua is discussing a loftier teshuva, which corresponds to renewal and transformation beyond the time and space. Rav Ginsburg shares that in learning this discussion, we learn that teshuva required for the geulah is an ipcha mistabra, a counterintuitive process. It requires us to rethink our perspectives on life. And how do we do that? Through silence. But how do we get to silence from this discussion?


The numerical value 815 is also the value of the Hebrew word for silence, shtikah. What is G-d through these numerical equivalents aiming teaching us? To arrive at your unique intention and return to who you really are, you have to get totally quiet, totally silent. In silence, allowing the active mind to settle, one can arrive at a true understanding or guidance unique and relevant to them. Practicing silence can help you with concentration, stress-relief, self-reflection , zooming out, increasing awareness, getting in tune with your intuition, and many other benefits. Perhaps silence is not just connected to ipcha mistabra through baal teshuva, but that it too is an ipcha mistabra. Meaning, silence is also seemingly counterintuitive. In order to really listen to G-d, to other people, and to your true self, it’s important to get silent rather than to just hear the words or messages.


How to get into Silence:
  1. Find a place with minimal to no distraction. If you can get into a float tank, that’s probably the best option as it limits any external stimuli. Ebb & Flow 74: Float Tank Therapy | Infinity Float Center

  2. If you’d like, set a timer for how much time you have available.

  3. Sit in a comfortable position. Ideally where you don’t fidget or move around.

  4. Close your eyes

What to do in Silence:
  1. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth

  2. Simply notice the sounds around you. Acknowledge them, but don’t get distracted by them. Silence does not mean there can be no sound. It is a state of mind and being within any environment.

  3. The mind will wander on events of the past or future. As that occurs, notice these thoughts, and allow them to pass like cars on the street or clouds in the sky.

  4. Continue these steps as your mind and your body begin to relax into the present moment.

  5. Any thought that arises is simply just a thought. You are not your thoughts. Observe thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally, like a scientist would in observing an experiment. The thought or feeling is not good nor bad, which is a subjective perspective. Rather, they can be pleasant or unpleasant. In the way of the latter, there is no resistance toward what you are experiencing. There is acceptance.

  6. Practicing these steps enters you into a state of silence where you can really listen.


My Resources on Silence

Silent Meditation Retreat & Benefits of Meditation

Guided Meditation with Shalom as Mantra

Ebb & Flow 45: Go Teflon, not Velcro | Noah BenShea

Ebb & Flow 81: Deep Listening & Asking the Right Questions | Ipek Williamson

Reflections from a 10 day silent retreat (includes blog and podcast I was on)


Also checkout my Guide to Meditation.


May you truly hear exactly what you need to hear 👂🏻


“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal
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