Moshe Rabbeinu prayed that the frogs should depart from Egypt as per Pharaoh’s request. Among all the frogs, the sole survivors were those that risked their lives to go into the fiery ovens of the Egyptians. In that merit, only these frogs remained alive in the Nile. Later when the dogs didn’t bark, Rabbi Nebenzahl notes, “dog-kind” was rewarded that throughout the ages dogs are entitled to receive non-kosher meat that is treifa. As the posuk teaches us, “And meat that was torn asunder in the field, you shall not eat; rather throw it to the dogs.”
Here’s the question. Of the frogs that braved the fires, their lives were saved but there was no resulting reward. The dogs, who simply didn’t bark, were given a reward for all generations. It doesn’t seem fair. We see from here, Rabbi Nebenzahl answers, that it’s easier to jump into a fire than to keep one’s mouth shut when necessary.
The importance of knowing the art of keeping quiet is revealed to us by Rav Shimon ben Gamliel in Pirkei Avos. There he states, “All my life I grew up among great sages and I never found anything better for one’s body than the virtue of silence.” Similarly, the Gemara teaches us in Tractate Chullin, “What should be a person’s profession in this world? To master the talent of knowing how to be a mute.” Imagine! There are plumbers, tailors, doctors and lawyers, but the Gemara teaches us that there is a universal skill that we should all learn to master: to push the mute button on our speech instead of instinctively saying words that will escalate a fight or generate hurt and pain.
The posuk says, Toleh eretz al blimah.” This means literally that earth seems to be suspended in the sky on a pedestal of nothingness. The Gemara homiletically interprets this to convey a powerful lesson: “The world is only sustained by one who knows how to shut his mouth in the face of confrontation.”
How many marital fights would be avoided if a smart spouse learns that it is mightier not to need to have the last word. It is not a sign of weakness to decide to remain silent. It is not the preferred approach to come up with a winning response. As we are taught, “The righteous are insulted and don’t insult back, they hear their disgrace and they don’t respond.” Three times daily in our Shemone Esrei, we ask Hashem for help to achieve this talent. At the end of Shemone Esrei, we beseech Hashem, “To those that treat me lightly (or curse me) may my soul react in silence.”
I have coined a phrase about marriage. Winners are losers. For example, you can win a fight with your spouse but then you’re stuck with a sulking partner for the rest of the night or for a long weekend. Who turns out to be the real loser? Still, silence is not always the complete answer. After all, we don’t want to ignore a problem and let it fester until it builds up inside of us and causes an explosion. Nor are we expected to ignore annoying behaviors repeatedly and live with unfair or inequitable treatment. However, the art of silence will train us not to respond in the heat of battle where the results are sure to be unfavorable. Especially if our partner is angry, silence is golden.
Remember the Talmudic dictum, “Don’t attempt to appease a person when he is angry.” As Rav Irving Bunim, zt”l, wittily explains, when a person is angry their brain is in “park.” The skill of knowing when to “zip it” will train us to choose the proper time and atmosphere to explain our position and to negotiate a compromise. Furthermore, Rabbi Keller of Telz, zt”l, recommends that anything we know that will not trouble us in a few hours is not worth making a fuss about; silence is a much more prudent way to let the matter pass.
In the merit of cultivating the skill of silence, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.