Lessons from God’s Silence 

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Leviticus 1:1 says God “called” to Moses, and then He “spoke” to him. Why are both needed? Just speak to Moses! 

Rashi comments that one might think God called to Moses, not only regarding God’s “spoken”communication, but that He also called him regarding the silent gaps in their conversation—between each Torah section when God paused—which allowed Moses time to ponder. Meaning, God called to Moses as He was about to speak new ideas, and then when God finished speaking a Torah section, He again “called” to Moses to direct his attention to the silent gaps.

“Calling” someone before “speaking” to him intends to first draw the listener’s attention as an act of preparedness for new ideas. As God’s words are of optimum importance, Moses required focus. But why would God call Moses’ attention when He stopped speaking, and there was silence? This would indicate that—although not of equal status—Moses gains wisdom when God speaks, and ialso when God is silent. 

This teaches a vital principle: gaining wisdom is not only when the student listens to a teacher, but also when the teacher is silent, and the student thinks into all he has been taught to understand every point. This requires silence from the teacher, and reasoning by the student. But there’s another equally vital principle here… 

God called Moses’ attention when He concluded a Torah section, as that very conclusion closed-off the ideas that belong in that section. Such limitation is quite informative. For example, by listing a category of murder, theft and rape, one categorizes that as “interpersonal damages.” This categorization helps to better understand the category and its members (components). Grasping the common denominator of all group’s members enlightens a person to the category’s theme. Similarly, through Moses’ receipt of prohibitions of idolatry, polytheism and star worship, Moses thereby categorizes these laws as teaching that God is one. Thus, a pause in God’s words which creates a limited category, is also essential to our acquisition of knowledge. 

Rabbi Israel Chait cited Maimonides’ formulation of how a master acquires a servant. This can be done by the servant tying the master’s shoe, or lifting up the master. The servant performs some subservient action. But then Maimonides adds, “And similarly, if the master lifts the servant.” The obvious question is that this does not embody any subservience by the servant. Rabbi Chait says Reb Chaim Soloveitchik said there’s no problem. The category that renders the servant acquired by the master is not servitude, but conquest. Maimonides’ inclusion of the master lifting the servant broadens the category of methods of acquisition, forcing us way from the theme of servitude, to conquest. Proper classifying members of a category provide greater knowledge.

However, Rashi concludes that God called Moses’ attention only for His speech, and not for the gaps. This means that of greater instruction are God’s precise words, than human reasoning. However, this does not diminish the importance of the gaps in God’s communication, for God willed these gaps so man engages his mind.