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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shelach "The Sound of Silence"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A student of Yeshivas Shor Yashuv in Far Rockaway once missed shachris during two consecutive mornings. Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva, approached the student and quipped that he missed him. The student proceeded to lie about his whereabouts. Rabbi Freifeld did not respond and the conversation ended there.

Six months later (!) Rabbi Freifeld approached the student, “Do you remember the conversation we had about missing shachris six months ago?” The student nodded. “And do you remember that at the time you said something untrue?” The student nodded again. The room was silent for a long moment before the student asked, “Why did Rebbe wait so long to say anything about that?” Rabbi Freifeld brilliantly replied, “Six months ago you had not yet grown ears. Now you have ears.”[1]

When the Torah commences its narrative about the debacle of the spies it opens with G-d’s words to Moshe, "שלח לך - send for yourself[2]. Rashi explains that Moshe was instructed to send out the spies "for your own sake". In other words, G-d told Moshe that the spies were not necessary, and no good would come out of sending them.

Even if the nation had aggressively demanded that spies be sent, G-d could have made it clear to Moshe that it was an imprudent idea. If G-d knew the disastrous result of the spies’ mission why did He allow Moshe to proceed with it?

Rabbi Mottel Katz zt’l[3] explained that the nation was not on the spiritual level to hear such a response. Even if G-d would have emphatically told them that it was a bad idea they would not have accepted it. They would have countered that it is imperative for any nation to gather as much intelligence as possible before embarking on a mission of conquest and there was no reason they should be any different. G-d knew that Moshe’s efforts to dissuade them would be futile.

Rabbi Katz noted that sometimes educating requires 'not educating'. In other words, at times a parent or teacher must NOT react. Even though the situation really warrants a comment or reaction, sometimes it will be counter-productive to react.

The gemara expresses this idea:[4] "Just as it is a mitzvah to say something (rebuke) which will be heard and accepted, so too it is a mitzvah to not say something which will not be heard and accepted".

Under the circumstances, there was no recourse but to concede to the nation’s demand, despite the fact that they were bound for disaster. They had to learn the lesson on their own and Moshe could not save them from themselves.[5]

This concept is invaluable in education. Many parents get caught up in the “Parenting Paradox”. They feel that if they tell, show, and direct their children constantly their children will listen and improve.

We would like our children to learn life's lessons easily, and we desperately want to protect our children from the challenges and frustrations of life. So we instruct our children to listen to our sagacious advice based on our experience. We hope that in doing so we will spare them the need to learn the lessons we were forced to learn the hard way.

Our motives are undoubtedly noble. They reflect the very reason we became parents, to guide our children toward a happy and fulfilling life. But somewhere along this path we became stuck in the paradox – “if I don't help you how will you ever learn?” On so many occasions when we offer to help things get worse, not better.

One of the most important ideas of education is to train ourselves to bite our tongue and watch and listen. It can be extremely frustrating to keep quiet, especially when we know our advice can save untold aggravation. But the challenge of education is to realize that one learns best from his own mistakes and we have to give our children room to learn from their own decisions… and mistakes.

How much distress and disaster could have been averted if G-d would have told Moshe not to send the spies. But the young nation did not yet have the ears to hear that message. They had to make the mistake themselves and suffer the dire consequences of their decision.

The Mishna[6] states סייג לחכמה שתיקה" - a fence (protection) for wisdom is silence”. The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped that the ‘fence’ around wisdom is when one has nothing to say and therefore remains silent. Wisdom itself is when one has something to say and remains quiet anyway!

Education is not merely about knowing what to say. More importantly, it’s about knowing when and if to say. It’s about knowing when it’s best to remain hidden away in the background, available when approached, but not rushing in unsolicited.

“A mitzvah not to say what won’t be heard”

“Send for yourself”

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[1] From the invaluable book, “Reb Shlomo” about the life and times of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l

[2] Bamidbar 13:2

[3] 1894-1964, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe

[4] Yevamos 65b

[5] Heard from Rabbi Yissochor Frand

[6] Avos 3:13

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