When I was a Junior in high school someone I loved criticized me that I wasn’t a good listener. I decided to seek advice from a wise man who was visiting from Jerusalem. He asked me the following question: Why does the mishna (אבות ג) say that “The gate to wisdom is silence”? I said, “I don’t know”. So he answered, because there’s another mishna (אבות ד): “Who is wise? One who learns from all people”. He didn’t explain, but I knew what he meant. If I want to learn how to listen (and be wise), I need to learn how to be quiet.
Over the years I’ve participated in many classes and meetings. I find it annoying how people love to hear the sound of their own voice, always chiming in on something ‘brilliant‘ that they were thinking of, instead of listening to the previous speaker. If a person doesn’t learn to be quiet, he won’t gain wisdom, because he doesn’t allow other people to teach him.
Rebbe Nachman says two amazing things about silence:
In Torah 234 he teaches that saying over stories of great people purifies the mind of the storyteller and the listener. But it’s not that easy to do. We need to know how to say the story. Most of the time the mind’s refinement comes from what’s not said, leaving the listener to imagine the details on his own and connect to that greatness.
In Torah 64 he teaches that by examining the deepest heresy and silencing the questions in his great mind, the true tzaddik saves other Jews from the clutches of such heresy and brings them closer to God.
It’s usually the ignorant people who are always talking. The greatest of all people measure their words very carefully. Their silence grants them and others wisdom and development.