Book of Silence

Walking on Water (WoW!): Considering the Subject of SilenceFrom Book of Silence – Sepher Hash’tikah
by Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, DONMEH WEST


“In seeking Wisdom, the first stage is silence.” — Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabriol (11th Century)

To begin with, there are two Silences and not one: There is the Silence of the Mouth and, in addition, the Silence of the Mind. The former does not necessarily accompany the latter, but the latter always accompanies the former. That is, one can be silent “in-the-mouth” while not, at the same time, also being silent “in-the-mind.” On the other hand, one who is silent “in-the-mind” is, at the same time, always silent in-the-mouth. Thus, there are three types of Lomaidim (Hebrew = “Learners”):

  • THE FOOL: Silent neither in the Mouth nor Mind
  • THE HEARING IMPAIRED: Silent in the Mouth but not the Mind
  • THE LISTENER: Silent in the Mouth and the Mind

Of the “fool,” Buddhism says, “A fool is like a spoon: it can sit in a bowl of soup forever and never taste it.” And in much the same way, the Talmud teaches:

“The wise man does not speak in the presence of one who is greater than he in wisdom; he does not interrupt the speech of this companion; he is not hasty to answer; he questions and answers properly, the point; he speaks on the first point first, and on the last point last; regarding that which he has not learned he says, ‘I have not learned;’ and he acknowledges the truth when he hears it. The opposites of these traits are to be found in a stupid person.” (Pirke Avoth 5:9)

The “hearing-impaired” individual, on the other hand, is one who appears to be silent, while all the while arguing, comparing, and responding to the other in his mind. Despite the silence of his mouth, his ears neither hear nor understand because the chatter of his mind deafens them as if with cotton. It is like the very old joke of the man who encounters his friend on the street:

“My goodness,” says the man to his friend, “You have bananas in your ears!


do you have bananas in your ears?”

“I’m sorry,” the friend replies with a smile, “I can’t hear you; I’ve got bananas in my ears.”

Such a person, of course, is only one step removed from the “fool” in that although “deaf,” he can at least be made conscious of not hearing and thereby correct it, but only when he removes the bananas from his ears- — that is, when he is willing to silence his mind as well as his mouth, which requires an heroic act of consciousness that the Ego is often ill equipped to perform. But this “mind” we speak of is like a wild ox, made even stronger by the Ego, that must be tamed, as we see in the ancient Ox-Herding Pictures of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.












I have discussed the meaning of this “roadmap to God,” as I call it, elsewhere in my lectures. Suffice it to say at this point that it is a “quiz,” more or less, that each of us can take to determine exactly where we are in our practice of Silence and the Wisdom such practice can lead us to. As I said at the beginning of this lecture: Out of silence comes listening; out of listening comes hearing; out of hearing comes understanding; and out of understanding comes Wisdom. Silence, therefore, by which Wisdom is achieved, means not only shutting our mouths, but Herding the Ox.

“Ehud….on reaching the Idols of Gilgal, turned and went back [to King Eglon] and said, ‘I have a secret message for you from God.’ The King replied, ‘Silence!’ and all who were with him went out.” (Judges 3:18-19)

It is not surprising that the sound one makes to invoke and/or represent silence in almost all cultures is, “Shhhh.” The Hebrew word for “silence,” Sh’tikah, begins with the Hebrew letter Shin and is, itself, pronounced, “shhhh.” Parenthetically, the letter Shin can symbolize either Good or Evil, depending upon which of its branches is topped by a daglesh (black dot). When the daglesh is over the extreme right branch of the letter, it symbolizes “good,” is pronounced Shin and looks as follows:

On the other hand, when the daglesh is over the extreme left branch of the letter, it represents “evil,” is pronounced (quite literally) Sin, and is written this way:

Probably for this reason, the letter Shin (and, therefore, the Hebrew word for “silence”) is Kabbalistically associated with the three columns of the Ten Sefirot — right, left and center. The left branch is associated with the Left Column of the Sefirot representing darkness (i.e., evil); the right branch is associated with the Right Column, representing light (i.e., good); and the middle branch is associated with the Center Column, representing an integration of the two sides:

(3) Binah/Understanding
(5) Gevurah/Harsh Judgement
(8) Hod/Splendor
 (1) Keter/Crown
(6) Tiferet/Beauty
(9) Yesod/Foundation
(10) Malkuth/Kingdom
(2) Chokmah/Wisdom
(4) Chesed/Mercy
(7) Netzach/Victory

Thus, as we shall see in what follows, the Hebrew word for “Silence” begins and ends with the “aspirant” letters Shin and Heh — both of which, because they are carried on the breath, represent the Ruach HaKodesh, or “Holy Spirit. Moreover, of the Shin, Sefer Yetzirah says, “God enthroned the letter Shin in fire” (Sefer Yetzirah 3:9); and of the letter Heh, “He enthroned the letter Heh in sight.” (ibid 5:5) These associations connect the act of Silence with the mystical vision of Ezekiel wherein what begins in “fire” becomes “seen” as the Ancient of Days, seated on the Chariot:

“There the hand of Yahweh came on me. I looked; a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the center a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire….And above [it] was something that looked like a sapphire; it was shaped like a throne and high up on this throne was a being that looked like a man.” (Ezekiel 1:4-28)

Come and see: silence is the mystical tool, the divine technology whereby we who enter it can, like Ezekiel, transform Fire into the Glory of God, seated on his Heavenly Throne. But, like King Eglon, we must first send away all who are with us in order to receive His secret message.

*   *   *   *         “Twenty-two [Hebrew] letters: He ordained them, He hewed them, He combined them, He weighed them, He interchanged them. And He created with them the whole creation and everything to be created in the future.” (Sepher Yetzirah 2:2)

Before considering the Kabbalistic subtexts in each of the twenty-five passages of the Old Testament where the word “silence” appears, I want to discuss the mystical meanings of the Hebrew letters comprising the Hebrew word itself, which transliterated into English would be Sh’tikah, spelled: Shin-Tav-Yud-Kaf-Heh.

Now, immediately, we see that this word contains the first two Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton, YudHeh-Vauv-Heh, in exactly the correct order, thus telling us that God Himself is to be found within Silence. Moreover, the Gematria (numerical value) of Sh’tikah is 820, as follows:

Sh’tikah = Shin (300) + Tav (400) + Yud (10) + Kaf (100) + Heh (5) + Total Number of Letters (5) = 820

Significantly, the Hebrew word Shamati (“I-Have-Heard”), although spelled differently, has exactly the same Gematria as Sh’tikah (“Silence”), which is 820. Thus, as we have said before, and as shown by the Holy Hebrew letters themselves, “Out of silence comes hearing.” Significantly, two other Hebrew words have the Gematria of 820; they are:

  • Asi’itim (“I-Have-Made-Them”)
  • V’kidashti (“And-I-Will-Sanctify”)

Thus, in Silence we are both “made” and “sanctified” by God, according to the mysteries of His Holy Language. Extending this analysis, we find that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, according to Kabbalah, has its own arcane meaning. (For example, see Rabbi Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Mesorah Publications, ArtScroll Series, 1983). When applied to the letters comprising the Hebrew word for “silence,” we find:

  • Shin = “Divine Power”
  • Tav  = “Perfection”
  • Yud  = “Metaphysical Creation”
  • Kaf  = “Holiness”
  • Heh = “The Holy Spirit”

This comes to tell us that “silence,” at its deepest meaning, begins and ends with God — first in His transcendent aspect of “Divine Power,” but finally with the immanent aspect of His “Holy Sprit” — and, by thus transforming God through our silence, we achieve, within ourselves, “perfection” and “holiness,” at the very center of which (resting on the fulcrum of silence, as it were) is the Divine gift of partnering with God in the metaphysical re-creation of the world. In the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov:

“For he is hallowed and become another man and is worthy to create and is become like the Holy One, blessed be He, when He created the world.” (Ba’al Shem Tov, “Instructions in Intercourse with God,” trans. by Martin Buber in Hasidism and Modern Man, Horizon Press, 1958, p. 185)

It is here that Silence becomes so intimately associated with the Neo-Sabbatian practice of what we call, “Repairing the Face of God”; that is, restoring Him to the Unity from which He fell through the act of creation, or what Rabbi Isaac Luria has called Shevirit HaKelim, or “Shattering of the Vessels.” Only in Silence — as the twenty-five references to it in the Old Testament will show — can we realize the words of the Prophet: “On the day the Lord shall be One and his name One, on that day the Lord shall be King over all the earth.” (Zechariah 14:9)

“Then the Israelites cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud, the son of Gera the Benjaminite; he was left-handed.” (Judges 3:15)

As the Zohar declares, “Woe to the person who says that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words….He will have no portion in the World to Come!” (Zohar 3:152a) That is to say:

“Everything [in Torah] has secret wisdom. [Each verse] hints at wisdom and the levels down below, to the depths of which [the people in them] descended.” (Ibid, 1:83a)

In other words, as the Zohar further brings down:

“[In each ‘story’ of Torah] there is a garment visible to all. When those fools see someone in a good-looking garment they look no further. But the essence of the garment is the body; the essence of the body is the soul….Woe to the wicked who say that Torah is merely a story! They look at this garment and no further. Happy are the righteous who look at Torah properly!” (Ibid, Zohar)

With these considerations in mind, Sepher HaSh’tikah (“The Book of Silence”) is devoted to “looking properly” (as the Zohar just defined it) at the first account in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word for “silence” appears — which is Judges 3:12-30, and deals with Ehud, a Benjaminite, who was left-handed and a redeemer of Israel. (According to Jewish and Kabbalistic rules of exegesis, the first time a Hebrew word is used in scripture defines its hermeneutic meaning.)

Ehud the Deliverer and Eglon King of Moab

“When Othniel son of Kenaz died, once again the men of Israel began to do what displeases Yahweh, and Yahweh gave Eglon the King of Moab power over Israel, because they had done what displeases Yahweh….Then the Israelites cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera the Benjaminite.” (Judges 1:12-23)

Just as there were deep mysteries in the Hebrew letters of Ehud’s name, so too in the name of Israel’s adversary, Eglon. To begin with, the Hebrew name “Eglon” is spelled (from right to left) as follows:

Which is to say, again from right to left, Ayin + Gimel + Lamed + Vauv + Nun-Final. (The fact that Eglon’s name ends in a “final” Nun, which is shaped differently than the “regular” Nun is of considerable importance and will be discussed later in detail.) Now, the literal meaning of Eglon is “young bull,” whereas the meaning of Ehud (as we have shown by a previous Kabbalistic interpretation) is “Messiah” Now, the “bull” in Kabbalistic symbology represents “the seed of the wicked” as shown in the very first of the only two passages where it appears in the Old Testament:

“Why do the wicked still live on, their power increasing with age? They see the posterity insured…..No mishap with their bulls at breeding time, nor miscarriage with their cows at calving.” (Job 21:7, 10)

The “bull” in Old Testament symbology also represents the “punishment of God,” which corresponds, of course, to the “seed of the wicked” through whom His punishment is meted out:

“Your sons lie helpless at every street corner like a bull trapped in a net, sodden with the wrath of Yahweh, with the threats of your God.” (Isaiah 51:20)

The “seed of the wicked,” implied in Eglon’s name, is a reference to the descendants of Nachash, the Serpent, who, according to the Zohar, had intercourse with Eve and fathered Cain, from whom the “mixed multitude,” or “beasts of the field” (i.e., “young bulls”) are descended:

“The mixed multitude are the offspring of the original serpent that had intercourse with Eve. They are the impurity which the serpent injected into Eve. From this impurity came forth Cain, who killed Abel…..And on the Side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species, from which come evil spirits and demons…..The right kind was not produced until Seth came, who is the first ancestor of all the generations of the Righteous.” (Zohar 1:28b, 36b)

Thus, under the “garment” of the story of Ehud and Eglon, as the Zohar calls it, we see the “sublime secrets,” again as the Zohar also calls them, of the interior battle between the two sides of God — that which injures on the one hand (as exemplified by Eglon), and that which heals on the other (as exemplified by Ehud) — “See now that I, even I, am He – No god is with Me. I put to death and I bring life, I struck down and I will heal” (Deut. 32:39) — Darkness vs. Light, the Serpent vs. Adam, the Seed of the Wicked vs. the Seed of the Righteous, Esau vs. Jacob, Eglon vs. Ehud.

We even see all this hidden in the very construction of the name Eglon, along with allusions to the Mystery of Silence, which is the subject of this series. For example, there are three primary letters in his five-letter name — the first, middle and last which are Ayin, Lamed, and Nun-Final, respectively. These three letters and their hidden meanings are as follows:

= The Eye
= The Teacher
= The Ear

It is significant in this regard that the first letter of Eglon’s name, the “Ayin,” is both the 16th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the Hebrew word for “eye.” Thus, the letter Ayin represents the “temptation” of the Ayin Rah, or “Evil Eye.” (See Rabbi Michael L. Munk, “The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet“, p. 173) On the other hand, the letter Nun, in its final form as compared to its regular form represents the Ozen (i.e., the “Ear,” or “Hearing”) as shown in the Biblical passage, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God!” It also represents the integration of “male” and “female” — upper and lower — as shown in the Sefir Bahir:

“The final Nun is the one that is always at the end of a word….But the regular Nun is the Foundation. This teaches us that the final Nun includes both Male and Female.” (Sepher Bahir 1:83)

Finally, the middle letter of Eglon’s name — it’s fulcrum point, as it were — is the Lamed. Notice how this letter literally unites “top” and “bottom” — how it reaches up from a center point to that which is above, and down to that with is below, uniting them as a single entity in its middle. This is the Tzaddik, or “Teacher,” who is the center-point between man and God, the Holy Axis, as I call it elsewhere, connecting them to each other. No wonder, then, that Lamed is not only the 12th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but also the Hebrew word for “teach” — and, furthermore, that the word for “teacher” itself is ma-lamed.

Thus, we see in the Hebrew letters of Eglon’s name, the inner “body, or “sublime secret” (as the Zohar calls it) that lies under what it also calls the outer “garment,” or story, of his encounter with Ehud. That is, through the intervention of Ehud the Tzaddik, Eglon the “bull” is transformed from one who only “sees” to one who also hears — from a man of the Eye (Ayin) who only “sees,” to one of the Ear (Nun-Final) who also “hears” — but only after he, himself, calls for SILENCE! as it is written,

“[Ehud] said [to Eglon], ‘I have a secret message for you, O king.’ The king replied, ‘SILENCE.’ Then Ehud said to him, ‘I have a message from God for you, O king.’ The king immediately stood up from his seat.” (Judges 1:12)

And for this — because he rose to his feet at the mention of God and called for SILENCE to hear His message — Eglon, despite who and what he was, became the ancestor of King David, Throne of the Messiah. But there are even deeper mysteries (for example, the unification of “male” and “female” within Eglon himself through the intervention of Ehud), mysteries which we will continue to explore in the next part of this lecture.

*   *   *   *        “The character [of Yahweh] thus revealed fits a personality who can only convince himself that he exists through his relation to an object. — C. G. Jung

The Biblical story of Ehud and Eglon is a parable — no, a paradigm — for the inner processes within the nature of God himself by which, through His encounter with man, He comes into awareness of himself and a measure self-control. Elsewhere I have discussed in greater detail the gradual evolution in God’s consciousness from the chaotic and out-of-control Yahweh of creation to the re-integrated and balanced Eheyeh (“I AM!”) who emerges out of his encounter with Moses who, it will be remembered, we have identified as a precursor to Ehud, the Moshiah. Jung speaks of it this way:

“The character [of Yahweh] thus revealed fits a personality who can only convince himself that he exists through his relation to an object. Such dependence on the object is absolute when the subject [i.e., God] is totally lacking in self-reflection and therefore has no insight into himself. It is as if he existed only by reason of the fact that he [God] has an object [man] which assures him that he is really there.” (C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, par. 574)

Clearly, we see this inner process of God acted out by the outer relationship between Eglon and Ehud, concerning which, in general, Jung also says:

“Always the more unconscious person gets spiritually fecundated by the more conscious one. Always when someone comes to me, the nature of their dream changes.” (C. G. Jung, Collected Letters: Vol. 1, p. 172)

This transformation of the less conscious by the more conscious applies even to the relationship between God and man in which, as we have seen, “Yahweh….can only convince himself he exists through his relationship to another.” Thus, for example, in His encounter with Moses through the burning bush, Yahweh, the God of Creation — whom the opening passages of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2) describe as Tohu v’Bohu (“Formless and Void”) and Choshek (“Darkness”) — this previously “dark” and “unformed” God of Creation — the “subject” as Jung would call him — finally breaks forth as the God of Israel who, at last, because of His encounter with an “object,” Moses, can declare for the first time since his entrance into the primordial space of creation, I AM!

“Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law…..[when] and Angel of Yahweh appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush….And God called to him from the middle of the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am’ Moses answered….And Yahweh said, ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people [Israel] in Egypt….So come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt’….Then Moses said to God, ‘I am to go then to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them? And God said to Moses, ‘Tell them I AM [Eheyeh] has sent you….This is my [new] name for all time; by this [new] name I shall be invoked by all generations to come’.” (Exodus 3:1-15)

Thus, Eglon, the “formless” (fat) and “dark” (murderous) “King” (Yahweh), who persecutes mankind, becomes conscious — that is, “leaps to his feet” — through his encounter with Ehud the man. The “right side” of God — the “Side of Light” — conquers His “left side,” the “Side of Corruption.” Eglon, who previously only saw, now also hears — and hears because, in order to receive Ehud’s “message from God,” he called for Silence! But this bi-polarity in Eglon also exists in Ehud, reflecting the Kabbalistic principle of “doubling” described in the well-known maxim, As above so below, and its corollary, As below so above. As the Zohar puts it:

“Come and see: the world above and the world below are perfectly balanced; Israel [mankind] below, the angels [divinity] above….The ones below proclaim He is above….The ones above proclaim He is below.” (Zohar 3:152a, 1:103a-b)

There is in Ehud, just as in Eglon, the two sides of God — darkness and light — each complementing and balancing the other, just as we see Eglon and Ehud (the two smaller circles within the larger one) in the great symbol of Taoism:

It is for this reason that Scripture makes such a point of telling us that Ehud (who is, it will be remembered, the Moshiah) was “left-handed,” and also why his “double-edged” dagger was placed over his “right thigh.” That is, in the very act of unsheathing his weapon, in order to plunge it into Eglon’s “fat belly” (i.e., the lower nature of God), Ehud unites “Left” and “Right” inside himself. Just as Eglon is Darkness within which there is also light, so too Ehud is Light within whom there is also darkness. For that reason Ehud says to Eglon, “I have a message to you from God, O King;” and Eglon replies by rising to his feet and calling for “Silence!” so that he might fulfill God’s great commandment,

“Be [silent] and know that I am God….Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (Psalm 46:10, Jeremiah 7:21)




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