“Be silent for Adonai …” (37:7)
There are many times in our lives when we are called to speak up and let our voices be heard. This verse, however, focuses our attention on the time that we are called to be silent. I am thinking of my favorite part of dovening, the silence of the amidah, the part of the service where we create the opportunity for intense, directed, focused prayer.
The amidah is intended to be a period of time in which we address God directly. This is true prayer, during which we might pour out praise, thankfulness, sadness, hopes, requests, focusing on the quality of the day, focusing on our own needs, and focusing beyond ourself to the needs of the Jewish community and the world as a whole, using both our own words and the words of the Siddur. Externally, the most notable quality of the amidah is that it is prayed in complete silence.
There are different qualities of silence. There is silence of reprobation, there is the silence of shame, there is awkward silence, there is the silence of confusion, there is the silence of anger, and then there is the silence of acceptance. When a community agrees to hold each other in their prayers together in silence, it is a silence that embraces and supports.
The amidah is a time during a service where a roomful of people fall into a warm silence together. Not a word is heard. God, who has no ears, does not listen by means of air pushing through vibrating vocal cords, sound rippling through the room. Ideal Jewish prayer uses the merest whisper, audible only to the speaker. Prayer could be expressed through pure thought, being being human, we pray best if we activate our thoughts. But the mildest whisper of air while our lips enunciate the words, so quiet as not to disturb a neighbor standing only a foot away, is enough to focus our prayers and send them on to the Blessed Holy One.
There is a time to act for God, there is a time to raise one’s voice up to God, there is a time to sing for God, there is a time to shout for God, and there is a time to “Be silent for God.”