I started coughing, suddenly, on Thursday night and by Friday morning, raising a white flag made of crumpled tissues, I surrendered to the onslaught of a nasty cold. The problem was that I was supposed to present a Storahtelling version of the weekly Torah portion at a big conference in a hotel in Ashkelon on Saturday morning – and by Friday afternoon my voice was down to a whisper. The conference organizers were very nice about it – a regime of tea with honey and assorted medicines was prescribed as well as a ban on speech. I spent Friday evening and night under solitary confinement in my hotel room. It worked. Saturday morning went fine – somehow I managed to raise my voice (there were about 300 people and there was no sound system, out of respect to the Orthodox among the group) beyond a whisper and took the audience on a hero’s journey in the footsteps of Jacob. They loved it.  Later on that day, just after I finished teaching a class on the art of Storahtelling and its application to Israel – a siren was heard. It wasn’t a drill – actual missiles were fired on Ashkelon from nearby Gaza. Everyone huddled in the lobby, more annoyed than scared, and within minutes we were told to disperse. The missiles hit a few miles away, at an empty construction site. Business went back to usual, but when I tried to say something to someone, I realized that this time my voice had really gone: the day’s efforts had taken their toll. I was completely speechless.
I decided to make the best of it. Got home, turned off my cell phone, informed my parents and close friends via email and text messages that I am out of commission, cancelled my meetings for Sunday and Monday and got into bed – determined to observe a strict silence until recovery. Had it not been for the coughing and headache I would almost have considered this a vacation.
And there, flipping through Genesis to find this week’s verb I found Jacob, speechless as well, but for very different reasons – and reading about it made me think about the different hues of silences in our lives.

Chapter 34 in Genesis starts innocently enough. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, goes out to visit the local Canaanite girls, her neighbors. But violence follows: she is raped by a local prince who then claims her as a wife. Dina’s opinion on this is not mentioned – possibly silenced – as is so often the case with victims of violence, domestic abuse or rape. And, loudly, her father is, at first, also silent: “Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; and his sons were with his cattle in the field; and Jacob held his peace until they came.”   (Genesis 34:5)

“Held his peace” is the King James Bible’s translation of ‘Ve’hechrish Yaakov.’ Other translations include ‘kept silent’ or ‘was quiet’ (very poetic translation – ‘held his peace’ – kept it inside, held it together…).
I listen, in silence, to his deep silence at this moment in his life and I know that it is the silence of speechless pain. And maybe it is also the silence of the quiet hunter, waiting for the right moment to react, and, also the tense silence of fear.
But I wish he’d say something. One can argue that Jacob waited till his sons came home to deal with the situation, and that his silence is wise strategy. Maybe, but maybe not.  If he would have spoken early on in protest or rage he may have been able to prevent the terrible massacre that his sons unleash on their neighbors in the following verses. And couldn’t he have said something to Dinah – a word of comfort?  Is ‘speechless’ the best that Jacob can do at this moment? Guess so.  I think of all the times outrage happens: so many of us are speechless when it comes to protest or condemnation or comfort. We may be ‘holding our peace’ – but by doing so – are we withholding peace from the world?

There are times to shout and times to hush, and I pray that I and all of us will know how to speak up when the need is real and the hurt needs comforting and the protest is required.  Even if our throat hurts – or when the words are uncomfortable yet have to be said…  I sit here as I write this, still semi-silent, though feeling a little better and hoping to learn something from my own particular hue of silence– maybe how to listen more carefully to what is or isn’t being said, written or shouted about, quietly.  And, then, when it’s time – really speak up.