Everything is Words
They are the building blocks of language, the essence of communication,
Words translate ideas from visions to concepts. They help us turn experiences from personal to universal.
Everything that we see around us began with words. Including the universe.
God created the universe with words.
Words are how we seek to understand and how we seek to be understood.
What does a parent say to a young child who is crying or throwing a tantrum?
Use your words.
The Limits of Words
And yet words have limits.
Some things and experiences cannot be described in words.
How would you describe a sunset to someone who is blind? They have no reference for the words you would use, no context for the colors. A “pink sky” is a construct, a meaningless descriptor to someone who doesn’t know what “pink” means.
The purest form of our emotions cannot be described in words.
How do you describe or define Love? Grief? Joy? Rage? Anger? Excitement?
These must be felt.
When you want to fully express how you feel in the most efficient way possible, you don’t speak in sentences. You don’t use your words. You speak in sounds.
Cry. Wail. Shout. Scream. Cheer. Grunt.
Argh. Whoo. Sigh. Urgh.
Sounds cut through the noise of words.
Words can take us away from the present moment, trapping us in the cobwebs of the mind, in memories of the past or anticipations of the future.
Sounds bring us back to presence, whether we are making them or hearing them.
Sound only exists in the present.
You can’t hold onto it after its gone.
Some sounds are so piercing that they cut through the noise and leave a silence in their wake, an emptiness in which we can hear more clearly, more deeply.
The Sound of Rosh Hashana
Judaism is a religion of words: Prayers, Sacred texts. Debates. Discussions.
The high holy-days — Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — are particularly noteworthy for their long prayer services.
So. Many. Words.
Yet the signature of Rosh Hashana, the spiritual new year, is not in what we say. It’s not even about what we eat.
The main commandment for this holiday is not to speak, but to listen.
And to listen not to words, but to a sound.
Specifically, the piercing cry of the shofar.
The sound cannot be described with words, it can only be felt. Listening is a full-body experience.
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called the sound of the shofar “a wordless cry in a religion of words.” That’s the best description you might get of something that can’t really be described.
A long blast from the shofar cuts through the noise, leaves a silence in its wake, and opens us to a space of knowing that exists beyond the world of words.