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The Music of Halacha: Case Study III: The Conversation Begins

As I said in The Music of Halacha: A Plea for Participation, my objective is to spark conversations about the Halachot of Bein Adam L’Chaveiro – Interpersonal Relationships. We not only learn the laws by engaging in the conversation, we get to know them in a very real sense, and make them part of our natural response to difficult situations. In fact, I am convinced that participation in such a conversation is actually the fulfillment of these Halachot. Thank you to all the participants, especially my honored Chavrusa and role model, R’ Moshe Stepansky. Please see The Music of Halacha: Rebuke: Case Study III with all the comments.

I originally intended to post the immediate continuation of the previous essay, however, I  prefer to first comment on the comments. Please bear with me:

R’ Moshe said, “As we all know, just as it is important to know what to say when, it is even more important to know what not to say.“

That is the comment for which I have been waiting! If we pay attention to R’ Moshe’s point we will realize that he added an element of Mussar, or Ethical Development to our discussion of Halacha.

It is impossible to discuss any Halacha without touching on Mussar.

It is impossible to discuss any one area of Torah without the points being relevant to all other areas of Torah. We cannot discuss Halacha without touching on Mussar, Hashkafa (Philosophy), Prayer, Torah, Navi, Ketubim, Talmud, Kabbalah and Midrash. Torah is a Unity, an expression of God, Who is a Unity. Everything connects.

It takes great skill, honed by Mussar to know what not to say. We learn from the Torah that it is actually considered a great strength: “And they could not speak to him peaceably,” (Genesis 37:4) so the brothers did not speak. They would not say what they did not feel. (Rashi)

“And his father kept the matter in mind,” (37:11) and Jacob did not speak more of Joseph’s dreams.

“And Aaron was silent,” (Leviticus 10:3) after his two sons, Nadav and Avihu died on a day of great celebration.

The Navi teaches us that King David also possessed this power: “And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out then a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out, and kept on cursing as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David; and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And thus said Shimei when he cursed: ‘Begone, begone, you man of blood, and base fellow; the Lord has returned upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son; and, behold, you are taken in your own mischief, because thou art a man of blood.’ Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king: ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray of you, and take off his head.’  And the king said: ‘What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord has said unto him: Curse David; who then shall say: Wherefore hast thou done so?’ And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants: ‘Behold, my son, who came forth of my body, seeks my life; how much more this Benjamite now? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my eye, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing of me this day.’ So David and his men went by the way; and Shimei went along on the hill-side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust.” (Samuel II 16:5-13) Shimei cursed and David remained silent.

“Job then responded to God and said, ‘Behold, I am deficient; what can I answer You? I place my hand against my mouth! I spoke once and I will not speak up again.” (Job 40:3-5)

The Midrash speaks of the Torah as “White Fire over Black Fire,” which is understood by the Kabbalists as the empty, or silent, white spaces between and inside the black letters of the Torah. Look at the letter “Pei” in the Torah and you will see a white “Bet” in the center. Even the empty space, the silence speaks.

We are taught what we may not say to one who is seriously ill. We are instructed to remain silent when we visit a mourner during the first three days of Shivah.

The most powerful prayer, the Amidah, is recited in silence.

R’ Moshe’s point of the value of knowing what not to say is expressed all over Torah.

This is why a conversation about Halacha can be so productive. This is how we can hear Music when we learn Halacha. It is the Shirah: The Song of Torah.

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