Things Better Left Unspoken

The salvation of Rabbis in Parashat Tetzave is Moshe’s missing name.

Those who have tired of addressing the theme of clothes and whether clothes make the man never cease to find meaning in the disappearance of the leader of the Jewish people from this week’s reading.

Some find hints for his actual presence, and others justification for his AWOL status.

One of the popular approaches runs as follows: Aharon always played second fiddle to Moshe and yet was happy for his little brother and never - well, almost never jealous. Now it was finally Aharon’s time to shine, as Kohen Gadol, and Moshe realized that the kindest way he could reciprocate Aharon’s generous love was to step back, to recede, leaving his brother alone in the spotlight.

One might wonder: Why didn’t Moshe explain his behavior? Why didn’t he announce to the Children of Israel—Behold, my brother Aaron, long-suffering, patient, loyal, finally gets his moment in the sun, and I shall step back to let him bask- Of course such a speech would have defeated the purpose. It would have made the moment about him, would have put the halo on His head for being so generous and humble—and Aharon would lose once again. Humility is one of those things you don’t talk about; you just demonstrate it.

That’s the Catch-22 that perennially confronts political candidates running for office, when the questions turn to how much humility they have. Beyond the hilarity of trying to watch self-absorbed individuals say that they have more humility than meets the eye, the very attempt to answer such a question is self-defeating.

In the reactions to the latest school shooting tragedy, we once more encounter phrases better left unsaid. As an angry reply to the oft-parroted “Our words and prayers are with you,” citizen have said that words and prayers are no substitute for actions. One social media picture even shows a campaign check in which the amount of the donation is filled in as “thoughts and prayers.” I would add to this category the ubiquitous “There are no words,” which is most often used as the prelude to words that need not have been said.

When it comes to words, Moshe Rabbenu was the master modulator. He knew when persistent prayer was called for, when, for his sister, the tersest of tefilot was more appropriate, and when, in Aaron’s situation, complete silence was the only appropriate attitude. Even as we learn from our teacher Moses when to speak, we must learn, as well, when silence is the best service.