At the tish (A meal shared by a rebbe and his Hasidim) of most rebbes, hours pass in heated Torah discussion, punctuated by much dancing and drinking L’chayyim (“To Life”). But at the table of Reb Menachem Mendel of Vorki, very little was said, for the rebbe’s way was the way of silence.
At one particular tish, Reb Beirish of Biala was in attendance. Expecting the verbal exchange common to most rebbes, Reb Beirish was soon caught up in the deep silence of this quiet sage. Hours passed, and not a word was spoken. Even the breathing of those assembled fell into silence, and only the buzzing of an occasional fly broke the silence.
After they had finished eating, the rebbe led the community in Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), and then they all left for their respective homes. Worried that their honored guest was annoyed at the quality of their rebbe’s tish, several Hasidim approached and asked Reb Beirish how he was faring.
Reb Beirish said: “What a tish the rebbe gave! He taught me lessons in Torah I have heard nowhere else! And every one of his challenges tore down my understanding of Torah and rebuilt it from the ground up. But I didn’t take his challenge passively. I answered every question he asked of me!”
The Hasidim smiled and welcomed Reb Beirish as one of them.
Tish: A meal shared by a rebbe and his Hasidim.
L’Chayyim (Hebrew, “To Life!) A traditional toast.
Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals): A series of prayers recited after any meal at which bread is eaten. The idea of saying grace after meals comes from the Torah: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
Reb Menachem Mendel taught through silence. What, then, did Reb Beirish hear? He heard the sound of the Shekhinah, the Holy Presence, manifest in and through himself. Had the rebbe taught through speech, Reb Beirish would have heard the rebbe’s words, compared them with those he had heard from other rebbes at other times, and filed them away in his memory to be trotted out if needed some time in the future. But through the rebbe’s silence, Reb Beirish could hear what he had never heard before: the ever-present revelation of God.
Revelation is immediate and momentary, continuous rather than continual. It comes through intuition rather than logic; it is right-brained rather than left. To hear it, you must be silent. But being silent is not the same as being passive. You have to offer all you know to the silence and allow it to be torn down. What is torn down is what you know; what is built up is what you didn’t know. But the new becomes the old, and so the sacrifice must be made again and again.
Rest on nothing, and your foundation is secure.