By Rabbi Yisrael Rutman
In recent years, India has become a magnet for young Israelis. Thousands of them stream to the sub-continent in search of exotic vistas, cheap and plentiful drugs, and spiritual adventure. So the recent earthquake in India was of more than passing interest to many parents in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They found themselves fearful participants in that human tragedy, waiting for word from their children, to hear whether they were safe, or had been swallowed up forever by the land of their sojourning.
There was a report of two Israeli families who had heard nothing from their sons since the earthquake hit in the area in which they were known to be staying. Two anxious days passed before they finally received a call from them to say that they were okay. Why did it take so long for them to get in touch with their worried parents? Had they been buried alive and dug out? Had all the phones been out in the affected area? No, the answer was nothing like that...
Like many of their contemporaries, these two young men had become involved in Eastern religion. They were unable to contact their parents because when the ground beneath their feet began to shake, their program of meditation, which required ten days of uninterrupted silence, still had two days to go. All verbal communication was forbidden, and their parents would have to wait---which they did.
This story is but one of many that illustrate the sad irony of young Jews searching the world over for spiritual sustenance, abandoning the riches of their own heritage for alien beliefs. Had they taken up their quest in a Jewish setting, they never would have caused their parents two days of frantic worry. For even had they taken a vow to keep silent, Jewish law allows for release from vows under extenuating circumstances. The commandment of honoring one's parents would have been sufficient reason for breaking silence.
"There is a time to be silent and a time to speak," wrote Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). Not for nothing was the author (better known as King Solomon) reputed to be the wisest of men. It is the wise man who finds the balance between speech and silence; and whose personal growth is not at the expense of others.
The right use of the gift of speech is a primary focus of Jewish practice; and in recent years, there has been a proliferation of books, lectures and programs aimed at its cultivation. Thousands of scholars and ordinary Jews around the world are learning and striving to keep the prohibitions against gossip, slander, lying and needless quarreling. But there are times when speaking is not only permissible, it is necessary. When it comes to Torah study, earning a living, helping others, and honoring one's parents, "there is a time to speak."
Nor is it necessary for a person who who wants to control his tongue to take a vow of silence. The Chofetz Chaim, who wrote the definitive work on the laws of kosher speech and was a master of it, was not known for his taciturnity. He used words frequently and effectively in teaching and in conversation. In fact, he would often make sure to dominate the conversation in order to steer it away from forbidden talk. You must live in the world and function in society; but you can do it on your own terms.
It used to be that the term "wandering Jew" referred to a condition of physical exile from the Jewish homeland. The Jew who wandered across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, was despised and persecuted, but he knew very well his own identity and the reasons for his suffering. Today, whether in India or Israel, China or America, the wandering Jew knows neither himself nor the reasons for his suffering.
But the search for meaning will not be denied. It is a hunger deep inside that will drive people to the ends of the earth to satisfy. And there, cut off from all society, even from their own families, in a scene of death and destruction brought about by an act of G-d, they may finally come to realize that the search for meaning will only truly end on the return trip home.
In a recent article, "Jews in High Places," I wrote that Don Yitzchak Abarbanel was thrown out of Spain. Actually, he was invited to remain there under royal protection, but chose to leave voluntarily, along with the masses of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492.---Y.R.
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