When the Mute Speaks

“Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field when behold, my sheaf arose and also stood; then behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.”

Like every other word and letter in the Torah, this passuk, which relates one of Yosef Hatzaddik’s dreams, has countless homiletic and esoteric explanations. One was offered in the horror that was the Warsaw Ghetto by Harav Klonymus Kalman Shapira, the Piezcesner Rebbe, Hy”d.

While generally translated as either “gathering sheaves” or “binding sheaves,” the actual words in Lashon Hakodesh are m’almim alumim, which can be understood to be related to ileim, mute.

There are times when an individual or a multitude has things to express, but chooses or is advised to remain silent. For example, we find that as the frightened Bnei Yisrael gathered at the Yam Suf with the Egyptians just behind them, Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed: “Hashem will do battle for you, v’atem tacharishun, and you shall remain silent.” Similarly, when Mordechai told Esther, “Im tacharishi, if you will remain silent at a time like this….” In both these pesukim the Torah uses a word for silence that is related to the root of cheresh (meaning “deaf”).

But at a time when his soul is so shattered that a Yid can no longer feel his own emotions, when he no longer has a heart or mind to feel and sense anything, then it is a case of far more than simply remaining silent.

In such a situation the Yid no longer has the choice to speak or not to speak, but becomes an ileim, a deaf-mute, someone who cannot speak.

During such trying times, a Yid attempts to comfort himself by thinking that his affliction is just a temporary setback. It is a time of tzarah, but one that will pass when Hashem will once again have mercy on him. He tells himself that truly he is like a mute. But even a mute can communicate, at least via sign language. So too, despite his “muteness” his soul is still somehow able to communicate — albeit in a limited manner — about its predicament, and somehow find the strength to comfort itself and persevere.

But when the situation deteriorates so drastically that the spiritual equivalent of the communication of a mute is also muted, then the affliction seems too great to bear. This is what the Torah refers to as m’almim alumim: when the mute are muted.

Then “Behold, alumasi, my sheaf arose and also stood”— the Yid can no longer make peace with his situation, he can no longer bear his burden, and he strengthens himself just enough to cry out to Hashem for help. The result is that “behold, alumoseichem gathered around and bowed down to alumasi”; he was strengthened to such an extent that all the other alumos received strength from him as well.

* * *

We cannot imagine the suffering of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, nor can any other situation be compared to Churban Europe.

However, the message of the Rebbe’s teaching can be applied to every generation. There are times when a person feels so distanced from the wells of holiness and purity that he is certain that his spiritual senses are muted. There are times when one may feel so spiritually broken and emotionally drained that he thinks that he cannot even communicate with Hashem anymore. Yet it is precisely at such a moment that a person can find in the depths of his soul just enough strength to cry out to Hashem: “Save me!” And this brings him the reconnection he so desperately needs and wants. For Hashem never abandons a Yid, and He is with us in all our suffering.

* * *

Later in the parashah we learn of the ultimate challenge faced by Yosef Hatzaddik. His response to temptation was, “There is no one greater in this house than I… how then can I perpetrate this great evil? I will have sinned against Hashem!”

The Rebbe Reb Moshe of Kobrin, zy”a, taught that from this episode we learn the precept of vayigbah libo b’darchei Hashem. Yosef Hatzaddik realized that that was not a time for humility. “There is no one greater in this house than I,” he declared, and therefore it is unbecoming of me to act in such a foolish manner.

Regardless of his present spiritual status, a Yid always will stay a Yid, a prince, an integral part of a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation. This fact alone should fill our hearts with pride and joy in the most trying of times, and help us emerge victorious from the constant spiritual battle we wage.

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