A Time for Silence, A Time for Speech
PurimBurst, 2005 / 5565
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
When Mordecai conveyed to Esther… “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall come to the Jews from another place, and you and your father’s house will perish”… Esther responded…”Very well, I will go into the king contrary to the law and if I die, I die…Esther donned royalty, and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s chamber… (Esther 4:13-5:1).
Modekhai did not follow the precedent of Egypt. In that grand exodus, the Jews got trapped between the sea and Pharoah’s horde, and the people cried to heaven for release. There, Moshe hushed them to silence (אתם תחרישון) and HaShem actually rebuked Moshe for resorting to prayer (מה תצעק אלי). hen Esther learned of the king’s decree to annihilate the Jews of his kingdom, she intended to plead for her people as soon as he summoned her presence. His invite was sure to come soon, and meanwhile she would wait and pray. Why imperil her life for nought? Halacha prohibits unnecessary mortal risks. Since the genocidal decree would not take effect for close to a year, it did not justify a life-threatening exploit. Yet Mordekhai insisted that Esther go now, unbidden. This was not a time for silence, urged he, this was a time for speech.
The Zohar explains that the Israelites’ escape from Egypt was a delicate surgery, a complicated extraction that required a precise balance of chesed and gevurah (stringency and generosity). This was HaShem’s double-edged scalpel that cut through the tangles and allowed their release. Our self-absorbed prayers disturbed the fragile balance by invoking excess judgment. They dulled the scalpel and nearly spoiled the tikun. The clumsier the surgery, the more loose ends remain to be worked out through exhausting ordeals that can drag on for millennia.
The Zohar also brings a second reason for this call to silence. The providence coming down in that dramatic moment at the Red Sea was from the most inner core of Divine influence, called Atika. Its lights transcend reward and punishment, and lie beyond the range of prayer. The only way to access them, maybe, is through silence. This we learn from another instance where Moshe asks why the righteous suffer, a query whose answer also pulls from the level of Atika, and here too HaShem commands silence: שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני. Reb Nachman reads this not as a rebuff, but as an invite. HaShem was teaching Moshe a practice that could bring him to the inner chamber of Atika where the answers to his question lie: “Silence. That is the way up to the inner point of Divine thought (called Atika).”
Similarly then, when HaShem called for silence at the sea, He was instructing the Israelites in this same spiritual practice, the service of silence (חש) which is different from the service of prayer. As King Solomon wisely observes, עת לחשות עת לדבר. (There is a time for silence and there is a time for speech.) The Red Sea was a time for silence. Israel’s Purim crisis was a time for speech. How did Mordekhai know?
Hechal HaBrocha reads the secrets and spins the following tale. Esther was a prophetess of the highest rank. She was expert in the kabbalistic practice of yichudim, a secret mystical technique that can draw the superconscious lights of pure grace (Atika) down into the lower worlds. These are the same lights that parted the sea. They are beyond nature and easily override it. Relying on precedent, Esther formulated a plan: She would harness the mystical chariot and go up into the silence. Using imagination to transcend imagination she would pull down a miracle of the sea-parting type. Esther was a master of this technique. She was certain to succeed.
Yet Mordekhai saw that times had changed, that HaShem was calling for something new. With one thousand years of soul-purifying mitzvot under their belt, the Jews were poised to make a quantum shift. The time had arrived to accept, with whole and willing hearts, their oral Torah, the living and evolving body of teachings that expand and elaborate the written text. This was at least as momentous as Sinai. G‑d’s word was set to descend another notch and fuse deeper still with the Jewish soul. If Israel passed this test, prophesy would give way to intuitive insight (חכמה). HaShem’s revelations would condense like dew on the hearts of His people, seeding insights from the inside out. The oral Torah, says R. Tsadok, is the accumulated body of wisdom pressed from the hearts of Jews striving to live with integrity to the truths they absorbed at Sinai.
Always, at moments of quantum shift, someone must rise to the tip of this world, reach up through the heavens and pull the lights down. Esther was called to perform this feat. At Sinai there was a pyramid of ascent. The people stood below in their designated places at the mountain’s base. The seventy elders climbed a little higher. Aharon and Yehoshua higher still. Yet Moshe, alone, went up through the clouds to the peak to the King. And so now, the time had arrived to pull the oral Torah down into the hearts of the people and Esther was the chosen one. Alone and uninvited, she must risk her life to approach the king for (unlike its holy Writ), “the oral Torah is only acquired by one who dies for it.”
Esther’s mission required that she embody exactly what she hoped to bring down. That’s what contact means in the world of lights and souls. Only things that are similar can touch. Esther had to listen and to speak at the same time, for that is the secret (and definition) of the oral Torah. She had to listen to the whisper of truth in her heart and express it through action and speech. HaShem would be her guide but, like manna, every moment contained a message of its own. At each step she scanned the horizon for options, waiting for her heart to answer yes, and there she would move. An extended fast?…A wine-party for three?…Another? There were no neon signs or prophetic voices (or even a battle plan). Alone with her instincts, she had to find G‑d’s holy word, that speaks through them as surely as He spoke at Sinai.
The Megila reports that Esther appeared before the king “donned in royalty (מלכות).” Hechal HaBrocha explains this to mean that she was wrapped in a shimmering mantle of light, called chashmal (חשמל), similar to the bodies of Adam and Chava before their sin. The word chashmal (חשמל) is built from two subwords that have contradictory meanings. Chash (חש) means silence and mal (מל) means speech. The movement between these two poles is what generates oral Torah. Listening and speaking; receiving and teaching; surrendering and asserting; accepting and beseeching; איו ואני. Back and forth between the poles at lightening speed until, like a spinning propeller, one enters a vibrant stillness that radiates light.
In modern Hebrew chashmal (חשמל) means electricity. In science, electricity refers to a whole spectrum of expression including both visible and invisible light. A science primer explains how to generate chashmal (חשמל). “A vibrating magnetic field creates an electric field which in turn vibrates and creates a new magnetic field whose vibrations create still another electric field, ad infinitum. This interplay between alternating magnetic and electric fields is what creates electromagnetic waves (including light).”
As above so below. Esther mastered the dance of chash-mal (חש-מל) and wrapped herself in its radiant cloak of grace. She had three days to learn the steps. There was no other way to meet the conflicting demands of her mission:
-Her silence (חש) pulled the redemptive lights of Atika down into the world and toppled the genocidal decree.
-Her speech (מל) pulled the oral Torah (the speaking Torah) down into the hearts of the people which opened the gates to a new age.
-The dance between them (חשמל) was (and is) a path of refining desire (i.e., prayer), deepening silence, and opening the mind to chidushei Torah (creative revelations of truth).
And all this was accomplished without disrupting nature, for that is a key feature of the paradigm shift she ushered in, where wisdom (חכמה) supplants prophesy. As the Talmud declares: “Why is Esther compared to the dawn? For just as the dawn is the end of the night, so is Esther’s story the end of revealed miracles.”
Apparently HaShem prefers a more “natural” medium of revelation (the insights that arise daily in the hearts of His people), and a more organic path of redemption (one that works in conjunction with nature instead of overriding it).
A person who saves another’s life is considered, now, to have birthed them. Rav Tsadok applies this principle to Esther. In saving the Jewish people she became the proud mother of us all. Every mitzvah performed thereafter gets credited, in part, to her “account”. Yet the benefits of this maternal bond go both ways. A child inherits the soul strengths of its spiritual parents. From Avraham we inherit generosity, from Yitzhok dignity, from Yakov compassion. And from Esther we inherit a capacity to bear paradox, to dance with it, and to turn it into light, Torah, and potent prayer.
Let it be that when the holy lights of Purim stream through the world, and HaShem makes an open house in the chamber of Atika, that we seize the moment and rededicate ourselves, with whole and joyous hearts, to our precious oral Torah that turns each life into a holy site of Divine revelation. May we, who are Esther’s spiritual heirs, learn to dance in her footsteps, speak from the silence, and spin the cloak of shimmering light that is our holy birthright.
 Exodus 14:10-15.
 Zohar II: 47a-48b.
 Ibid; Sira D’Tsniuta 178b.
 TB Menachot 29b.
 Likutei Moharon 64:3
 R. Tsadok HaKohen, Dover Tsedek, p. 131.
 Ecc. 3:7.
 R.Y.Y.Y. Safron of Kamarna, Ketem Ofir (on Esther) especially 4:11-5:4.
 R. Tsadok HaKohen, Pri Tsadkik, on Purim where he explains the comment of TB Meg. 16b on Esther 8:16, “To the Jews there was light (אורה)..’Rav Yehuda says, Light refers to Torah…’” Yet since light is written in its feminine form, אורה instead of אור, it refers to the feminine Torah, the oral Torah.
 The Oral Torah includes two primary categories. The first is the authoritative chain of tradition that started with Moses and passes from master to disciple until today. (Sifra 105a). The second is the accumulated wisdom of individual Jews, no matter what their standing in the community or level of religious observance. (Pri Tsadik, Chanukha, , p. 143; Adar ; Likutei Maamarim p. 80-82; Yisrael Kedoshim p. 152. and many other places.)
 TB Brochot 43b, Torah Temima on Bmidbar 19:14, Tanchuma on Bereshit.
 Kaku and Trainer, Beyond Einstein (Bantum Books, 1987) p. 24-25.
 Yoma 29a. Interestingly, the “new day” is the era that is beyond miracle.
 Tikanat HaShavin, p. 110 (Bet Yesharim ed.), (but also 107-110).