Can you look at the world without expectations, without the demand that it fit into your familiar ideas and definitions? Can you just see it as it is?
Of course words are essential tools to communicate what we have seen, but always make sure to first feast your eyes on the incomprehensible before you cut and stuff reality it into categories or slap a labels on it. Don’t forget to marvel.
It is recommended that before we pray, we should sit in silently and meditate for a certain amount of time. This is because if we seek to know God in silence, before words or concepts, then we will be able to address God with sincerity and honesty, without confusing our words with the truth of God Who is beyond words.
To understand when words are appropriate and when they interfere, we need to take a look at the three Hebrew words that are translated as “word” in English. They are: mila, teva, and davar. If we understand their derivative meanings, we will understand the limitation of words, and language in general.
Mila, for example, is also used to refer to the rite of circumcision, which is called brit mila—mila literally means “cut.” It is an appropriate word for circumcisions, but why does it also mean “word”? Because words have the capacity to cut reality into pieces. That’s the problem. Through words I can’t see reality as it truly is because words fragment reality. I no longer see the unbroken whole. I just see my carefully labeled pieces.
The second word teva literally means “box.” And that’s another negative aspect of words—they put reality into boxes. Words take all of reality, cut it into pieces and pigeonhole each one: tree, cloud, bird, sky, ocean, and so on.
The third word davar means “thing.” It suggests that words take reality and turn it into a bunch of things—inanimate, distinct objects.
King David, who so beautifully used words in composing his psalms, also wrote: “Silence is His praise.” Was King David saying that he was wrong to use words to praise God? I don’t think so. King David understood that only a person who first knows God in silence, only a person who sees before speaking, can utter words of praise that do not interfere with his vision. But what unfortunately happens is that our words and concepts obstruct our seeing the stunning whole.
Perhaps that is why for the first two years of life, a child experiences a world without really understanding words and without the ability to speak. Childhood is a time for wonder. Words are great, but if they become a substitute for wonder, or if they are introduced prematurely, then we lose our direct encounter with reality.
Silence is the first step to seeing, knowing and truly praising God. Silence is the golden gate.
Learn more in Seeing God: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah