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The Silent Scream

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The hearts of the people
     cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
     let your tears flow like a river
     day and night;
give yourself no relief,
     your eyes no rest.—
Lamentations 2:18

In the late 1800s, Edvard Munch created one of the most famous pieces of art. The painting, which features a person with hands by his cheeks, mouth open wide, and a look of horror on his face, is known as “The Scream.” The painting, also known as “The Shriek” or “The Cry,” presents a tumultuous orange sky with tranquil-looking passersby.

While the painting is only visual, just about everyone who sees it can hear the scream emanating from the canvass. Yes, the scream is silent, but nevertheless, oh-so loud and powerful. Munch himself explained that the painting had been inspired by what he had heard as “nature’s silent scream.”

What this painting conveys visually, Jewish sages taught verbally. Most notably, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a prominent rabbi in the 18th century whose teachings are still extremely popular today, taught about the power of crying out to God – even in silence. One can scream to God in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) and yet the sound reverberates around the world and resonates in heaven.

In the book of Lamentations we read: “The hearts of the people cry out to the LORD.” Notice that it doesn’t say that the voices of the people cried to the LORD or simply that the people cried out to God. Rather, the verse specifically notes that the hearts of the people cried out.

How does a heart make a noise? According to Jewish tradition, a heart that feels pain and turns toward God as its only saving grace makes the loudest sound in the world without uttering a word. In fact, a single heartfelt sigh can be enough to bring about the salvation one so desperately needs.

This is the power of the silent scream. It is not all that different than an actual cry to God. Remember, that it’s only when the Israelites enslaved in Egypt cried out to God, that God’s plan for salvation went into action: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant . . .” (Exodus 2: 23-24). In much the same way, we can cry to God with our hearts and awaken His great power in our lives.

Let’s remember the power of the silent scream. Let’s remember to cry out to God in our own personal times of trouble. Yet, let us also be keenly aware that so many people close to us and around the globe are screaming out in silence. May we hear their sound of suffering and help them. May God hear their cries and save them. May He hear all our prayers and answer them. Amen!

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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February 17, 2016
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