I recently came upon an article from Eliyahu Federman on instituting a “moment of silence” as a means to curb school violence and other misconduct. The article cites the instruction made by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in the 1980s about the “moment of silence,” and the benefits that civilization receives from acknowledging that there is a Creator of heaven and earth. To get around potential church and state entanglement issues when it comes to prayer in public schools, the solution was that the content of these moments—whether to think about God or to embark on a secular meditative experience—would be up to each student.
Now 30 plus years later we are still left with two questions:
1. Why is a “moment of silence” not instituted in every public school? For extra emphasis, Federman wrote his article the day after a school shooting. 2. How we do get from Point A to Point B? How do we go from silence and quiet reflection to better behaved kids?
Moment of Meditation
We are still not there. Not yet at the stage where the “moment of silence” is instituted in public schools nationwide, and not yet at the stage when students are encouraged to think about God. As he went on to explain during that public event, to paraphrase, the intent of the Constitution was “freedom of religion,” not “freedom from religion.” To be encouraged to believe in God according to our understanding, but not to leave God out of the public school lexicon. Of our two questions, there has been some progress on the silence front.
In a recent article entitled, “San Francisco Schools Transformed by the Power of Meditation,” daily meditations were implemented in the hopes of staving off school violence, and according to the article, daily in-school meditations had a positive effect. To quote:
“…Students say they’re more conscious of their actions, calmer and less angry… Meditation has been found to increase focus and stimulate a sense of calm, not just during the quiet time, but also for the rest of the day, according to the Mayo Clinic.”
Now that silent meditation in schools has begun to at least some extent, where do we go from here?
The Power of Silence
Instead of clearing the mind, the intent of Rabbi Schneerson was that students should fill their mind with the awareness of God. But in order to get to this desired outcome, we also need a meditation, termed in Kabbalah the silence that precedes speech.
To quote from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh’s Awakening the Spark Within :
“Jacob, Moses, and David were all leaders of the Jewish people who cultivated their innate potential for leadership while tending their flocks in the meditative quiet of the desert. Many of the prophets, as well, found the desert silence the perfect environment for prophetic experience.
An allusion to the silence which precedes, and leads to, the potent speech of a leader is contained in the most mysterious word of the Bible—chashmal—used by the prophet Ezekiel to describe his astounding vision of the chariot:
“And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great cloud and a fire flaring up and a brightness was about it, like chashmal, out of the midst of the fire.”
Chashmal is most often translated as the “color of electrum” or the “color of amber,” but the sages understood that chashmal was not just a color but an energy, and indeed modern Hebrew translates it as “electricity.” Dividing chashmal into syllables produces two antithetical concepts—“silence” (chash) and “speaking” (mal). This suggests that a state of rectified speech follows the quiet, meditative preparation of silence.”