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In pirkei avot it says that silence is an ingredient to becoming wise. (ch.6 "Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities....minimizing talk")

how does keeping silent make a person wiser?

It also seems that there is some kind of intrinsic benefit of keeping silent to attain wisdom as the Arizal would say "he who guards himself in silence 40 consecutive days will certainly attain ruach hakodesh (enlightenment) without a doubt." - Yesod v'Shoresh HaAvoda Shaar Hamayim perek 4

Hence, it is not just with regard to listening to other people.

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9  
Lets you listen to what other people have to say.... –  Shokhet Jun 12 at 19:32
    
@Shokhet true but i think it means general silence - even when people are not saying anything. –  ray Jun 12 at 21:17
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Somebody or something is always saying something. The world speaks to us if we just close our mouths and listen. –  Danno Jun 12 at 21:29
    
Story: Someone came to the Ruziner and said he didn't talk for 40 days and didn't attain Ruach HaKadosh. Why not? The Arizal says "without a doubt". The Ruziner pointed to a horse and said: "This horse also hasn't spoken for fourty days". –  Yishai Jun 13 at 14:46
    
@Yishai and therefore what? that it applies only for a torah scholar? –  ray Jun 14 at 18:39

4 Answers 4

The Baal Shem Tov:

When silent one is able to think (about higher worlds - Mizritcher Maggid), which creates wisdom. (Slightly simplified).

The Mizritcher Maggid:

When silent he receives from levels higher than him, but when being a giver [speaking] he cannot be a receiver.

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Our Sages teach that "silence is a fence for wisdom" (Avos 3:13). Rabbeinu Yonah (ibid.) mentions two ways through which silence begets wisdom. Firstly, it trains a person to avoid interrupting his fellow or feeling like he has to speak up even if he does not know the answer to a question, and these qualities are conducive to wisdom.

Secondly, as mentioned in Shokhet's comment, it allows a person to listen carefully and in full to the words of his teacher or other wise people. A person who does not habitually restrain himself from speaking will likely speak immediately after he thinks he understands his teacher's meaning, and may thus lose out on the full explication of the teacher's point and intent.


More generally, silence is an attribute that is suitable for and characteristic of wise people. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel remarked (Avos 1:17): "All my days, I grew up among the Sages, and I have found no better attribute than silence." The distinguished families in Bavel were known to exercise this trait (Kidushin 71b).

One avenue to understanding these sayings is that indicated by the verse in Mishlei (10:19): "In many words, sin does not cease, but one who restrains his lips is wise." The Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Avos 1:17) explains that someone who speaks excessively will inevitably say something inappropriate.

Rabbeinu Yonah (ibid.) supports the Rambam's approach by quoting the remark of Reish Lakish (Y'rushalmi B'rachos 1:2, our version indicates that the remark was made by R' Shimon bar Yochai) that it would have been appropriate for man to have been created with two mouths so that one of them could be devoted uninterruptedly to Torah, except for the fact that people can't seem to avoid deleterious speech (דילטוריא) even with one mouth - how much worse would it be with two!

Another approach is suggested by a verse in Koheles (5:2), which describes the characteristic behavior of fools by saying that "a fool's voice [comes] through a multitude of words." Rashi (Avos ibid.) remarks that people who are quick to speak up and comment on every matter are widely viewed as fools, even if they are wise, whereas even fools who keep silent are considered wise.

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See also Likkutei Moharan 1:6 for a very interesting perush on this. –  Naftuli Tzvi Kay Jun 12 at 23:44
    
(and I mean חלק א' תורה ו) –  Naftuli Tzvi Kay Jun 13 at 0:04

My grandfather has a saying that we were given two ears and one mouth so that way we would listen to others twice as much as we talk and then one one adds the knowledge and wisdom gained from another person to one's own knowledge and wisdom you become twice as smart as before.

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I like what your grandfather said! My grandparents were very "European"-minded and had "elite" dining room etiquette. Children (including me) were not allowed to talk at the table unless they were specifically addressed. (Asking short requests like "pass the salt", "May I use the rest room", etc. was the only exception to talking). The reason for the silence was that children should learn from older people and not spend the meal "talking". To be honest, in hindsight, while I appreciate the etiquette, I'm not sure I really learned much from my relatives' dinner talks, anyway :-( –  DanF Jun 13 at 14:11

(May this answer also be in the merit of a speedy rescue to the three kidnapped boys - גיל-עד מיכאל בן בת גלים, אייל בן איריס תשורה ויעקב נפתלי בן רחל דבורה)

The answer can be found in Chapter 2 of "Sha'ar HaTevunah" in sefer "Shmiras HaLashon" - http://shmirashalashon.blogspot.com/2006/12/shmiras-halashon-kislev-20-eightieth.html

“The [attribute of] silence is appropriate for the Torah scholars, how much so, [it is appropriate] for the fools.”[1] (Pisachim, 99a) “[The] fence for wisdom [is] silence.”[2] (Pirkei Avos: Chapter 3; Mishna 13) “The [choicest] of all spices [is] silence.” (Megillah, 18a) [Also], be careful to guard your tongue like the pupil of [your] eye, for “The mouth of the fool is destruction for him, he opens his lips wide, [it is] a snare for his soul.”[3] (Mishlei: 18; 7), and it is written, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards from troubles of his soul.” (Mishlei: 21; 23)

If you are sitting among a group of people, it is better that [those people] say to you, “Speak! Why are you so quiet?”, than if you were to speak, and your words would be a burden to them, and they would say to you, “quiet”.[4]

[Furthermore], it is written [in Michah (7; 5)]: “From the one that dwells in your chest, guard the openings of your mouth.”[5] [This] pasuk hints to us, that the mouth is similar to a doorway, and just as the doorway of the house has a time to be opened and a time to be closed, for if it would always be opened, all that is in the house would be destroyed. So too, this is the case with the opening of the mouth, there is a time to open them [to speak] words of Torah and [of] other necessary things, and there is a time to close them, [to refrain from speaking of] the other [types of speech].

A person [must also] be aware that the [ability of] speech is the most loved of all of the loved [abilities], for through this [ability], the form of the person is completed.

Therefore, just as a person who possesses gold, silver, and pearls, makes an enclosure for an enclosure to guard them and he conceals these [treasures] in his inner-chamber, inside a box designated for this, similarly, to a greater degree than this, a person must make an enclosure for an enclosure for his mouth, that being in [the enclosure of the attribute of] silence, as mentioned earlier.

[1] The passage in the gemara states as follows, “The [attribute of] silence is appropriate for the Torah scholars, how much so, [it is appropriate] for the fools, as it says, “Also a fool who is silent will be considered [to be] a wise man, [if he seals his lips, [he will be considered to be] a person of understanding.]” (Mishlei: 17; 28)”

The preceding pasuk states, “One who prevents himself from making [vain] statements, is knowledgeable, one [who treats his words as carrying] value, is a man of understanding.” (Mishlei: 17; 27)

The above translation is based on Metzudas David. Onkelos translates the pasuk as “…one who is humble is a man of understanding.”

Metzudas David has a varying understanding on the pasuk quoted in the gemara, where he explains that the individual who silences the fool is considered to be wise, while one who prevents the fool from saying that which he wishes, is considered to be an individual of understanding.

On these pisukim, the RaLBa”G explains that the person who is knowledgeable prevents himself from speaking unless he has to say something of necessity. The individual who is understanding treats himself with value, not joining up with individuals of “stature” and he will [try to] avoid excessive speech. Of course, none of the above is done through a sense of haughtiness. By acting in such a manner, the individual will benefit, as, by preventing himself from speaking excessively, his foolishness will leave him, and he will also be considered to be an understanding individual if he seals his lips and does not speak at all.

[2] Bartenura explains that this Mishna is teaching that one should avoid speaking that which is unnecessary and should limit his speech as much as possible.

[3] The RaLBa”G explains that the words of the fool present himself with a self-inflicted danger, for, by opening his mouth, he may come to incite a quarrel and he may open his mouth to try to defend his fellow, and, in the process, reveal information that was meant to have been kept secret, leading to discontent.

The MaLBI”M explains that the fool, with his lips, will ensnare his soul and through the words of his mouth, he will bring destruction upon himself. By opening his lips [to speak that which is forbidden, he could] ensnare his soul in the pit of destruction, and through that which he speaks with his mouth, he also brings destruction to his body, for, [through this forbidden speech], HaShem [may] bring bodily punishment upon the individual.

[4] The teachings, beginning with the words, “He who is accustomed in [the attribute] of silence” – beginning of the 19th of Kislev, up to this point – are copied from sefer “Orchos Tzaddikim”, “The Gate of Silence”, see over there [for more on the importance of the attribute of silence].

[5] The translation of "פתחי" – “pischei” is “openings” or doorways”.

The entire pasuk reads as follows:

“Do not [put your] belief in your fellow, do not trust in the leader. From the one that dwells in your chest, guard the openings of your mouth.” (Mishlei: 7; 5)

RaSh”I comments that the one who “dwells in your chest” refers to your soul, which will testify against you [regarding your actions and words before the Heavenly tribunal]. Metzudas David and RaDa”K explain that the one who “dwells in your chest” refers to your wife. Do not [even] reveal to your wife information that is meant to be kept secret, for the information is bound to be revealed. RaDa”K explains that one should not speak negatively about his fellow to his wife.

Clearly, if one is to not reveal such forbidden speech to one’s wife, to whom he confides, how much more so should he similarly be careful to not speak these forbidden words to other people.

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