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The Sounds of Silence

by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow


Library » Holidays » Yom Kippur » Essays | Subscribe | What is RSS?


What does sound mean to you? Sound plays many roles. It is a vehicle for communication, music, and even distraction, but at its root sound is the simple indicator of life.

Life is filled with audible indicators, and I find their sound reassuring. In the office it’s the constant hum of the computer. In the supermarket it’s the steady buzz of conversation. At home it’s the little sounds of children at play.

These sounds are woven into the very fabric of my life and they assure me that its operation is smoothly at work. Even as incessant clanging drives me desperate, even as I crave a moment’s peace, I know that I find the noise comforting. Should these little voices ever stop purring I know I would crave these most elementary indicators of life.

Even in serenity there is mild activity, even in relaxation there is slight movement, even in peace there is muted sound. When I imagine relaxation I conjure up images of playing children, whispering breezes and gentle waves. I think of floating yachts, flying seagulls, and the shimmering rays of sun. These may be tranquil activities, placid movements, relaxing voices, but they are movement and sound nonetheless.

When I imagine relaxation I conjure up images of playing children, whispering breezes and gentle waves
A Time for Silence
The absence of sound may be comforting for a moment of two but is too silent for my long-term tastes. Before long I would feel compelled to flee. I’d call a friend, turn on the radio, anything to escape the oppressive stillness of silence.

Beyond life spans a vast stillness. When all is achieved and activity has ceased, when there is nothing left to strive for and nothing left to attain, then we can afford silence.

There will be plenty of time for that silence. For now, I prefer my silences punctuated by the pulsing sounds of life.

Sound denotes activity, activity denotes movement, and movement denotes a discrepancy between where we are and where we want to be. When we arrive at our ultimate destination we can afford to lie low, but life is not the time for that. Life is a time for momentum, for forward movement, for growth and expansion.

The Jingling Bells
This affinity for sound may help to explain why the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, was instructed to fashion bells on the bottom of his tunic.1 The bells softly jingled as he walked and announced his entrance ahead of him.2

At first glance this seems a curious intrusion. Is the house of G-d not best served by the dignity of quiet decorum? Do these sounds not draw undue attention to the high priest, detracting from the emphasis on G-d?

If this were the purpose of the bells, these questions would have been reason enough to do away with them. But that was not their purpose. These bells reflected the essence of life. They represented the give and take, the hustle and bustle, of movement and growth. The High Priest did not live in a vacuum of spiritual seclusion. He lived in a world where ordinary people struggled to forge an extraordinary relationship with G-d.


  • 1. This essay is largely based on Likutei Sichot vol. 16 p. 336. A talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on February 22nd 1975.
  • 2. Exodus 28:33.


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History » The Holy Temples » Temple Personalities

Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.