A gentle breeze was blowing when I found Rabbi Loeb sitting on the wooden bench outside of our chapel. It was late on a Shabbat afternoon, at the end of a gorgeous summer day, not too hot, not too cool, just exactly right. In a short while the evening service would begin, the Torah would be read, havdallah chanted. But in some magical way time seemed to stop. Rabbi Loeb, always running, always with a next thing, always with a deadline, was relaxed and peaceful. He looked at the flowers, the green grass, the leaves in the trees, at the edifice of the building that housed the congregation he had served for decades. He looked up at the blue sky, just beginning to darken to a deeper shade in the east.
I sat down on the bench next to him. We didn’t say a word. Just took pleasure in the sharing of that moment, each with our own thoughts. Spring was behind us, and the fall with its demands seemed a long ways off. It was summer, the slower pace, the reverie, the subtle astonishment at the beauty of this world when it is in full bloom. Somewhere a baseball game was being played, a lawn mowed, neighbors were sitting on a porch and discussing the events of the day, drinking iced tea or lemonade, listening to music playing on an old radio. Somewhere. But in our moment it was all stillness.
There is a beautiful midrash about the giving of the Ten Commandments, one of my favorites. It imagines the precise moment before God spoke the words of Torah at Sinai as a moment of profound silence and stillness. A moment when the world became soundless. When even the endless waves of the sea stopped their incessant murmuring. When the entire world paused to listen.
Sometimes there are no words. That is a hard thing for a rabbi to admit. In some ways we are paid talkers. Our job is to speak, to teach and counsel and preach and bring meaning and context and comfort using words. What is the old joke? ‘Before I speak, I would just like to say a few words.’ That is a joke made for rabbis.
But sometimes silence is better. Sometimes stillness gives us the opportunity to think and feel, to understand more deeply, to sense more profoundly, to experience more fully. In our increasingly busy and noisy world, those moments are few and far between. But we should look for them, search them out. Often they are right there, waiting to be discovered, waiting for us to be still, waiting for us to listen. Like on a summer afternoon, on a wooden bench, under a clear blue sky.