A few years ago, I merited to spend three consecutive summers working with special needs children. Needless to say, I earned far more than I gave in terms of the lessons in fortitude, positivity, and love that these special neshamos (souls) displayed, but one point always stood out for me. I was always fascinated by the total lack of inhibition in these children. Many times, there is almost a complete disconnection between the child and his surroundings; what he feels he expresses, and rather loudly – right then and there, in amusement park and library alike. Adults, and to a lesser degree, “regular” children, are very in tune with what is going on around them. Who is watching, the norms of the particular setting, and how we are being perceived all play a vital role in the manner in which we conduct ourselves. Restrained by these cautious thoughts, we behave differently than we would have acted otherwise.
In some ways, this natural inhibition is a positive social reflex necessary for a functioning society. However, there are times when too much inhibition can cripple us and stunt our ability to impact others in a positive way. We are often so busy thinking about what others are thinking that we are unable to live in the moment and just be ourselves. (Never mind that nobody is thinking about you because they are too busy wondering what others are thinking of them!) The key is to strike a balance between healthy and unhealthy inhibition, allowing our awareness to guide our actions in a socially acceptable manner while not allowing it to take over and prevent us from reaching our social potential.
Still, is there a way to break the positive inhibition without being detected? Can I scream at the top of my lungs in a crowded room and maintain a semblance of dignity and normalcy? And even if I could, why would I want to do that?
Life is full of various stressors. We all live on multiple levels at the same time; physically in one place, we are mentally in five others. No matter how much we do it seems as if there is always more to be done. Parnassa is a struggle, raising children is a struggle, day to day life is a struggle. And this is all true for a healthy, functioning, stable individual. For a person who is suffering through illness, loss of a loved one, spiritual ailments, addiction and so on, the challenge that life presents can sometimes seem too much to bear.
Thankfully, we always have the shoulder of our Father in heaven to lean on. We are in an intimate relationship with the all-capable, all-knowing infinite Force that brings all of creation into existence every split second and He feels every bit of our pain and frustration. Turning to Him to express our anguish relieves some of the tension. We feel that He listens. We know that He understands.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could scream out to Him, a call without words, to express our anguish and distress? Stuck in gridlocked traffic with a car full of coworkers on the way to an important meeting? No issue! I just lift up my eyes to heaven, take a deep breath, and call out to the only One who can truly assist!
But I don’t do that. I can’t do that. People are around. They might think I am strange, awkward, perhaps mentally disturbed. This healthy inhibition stifles my ability to connect with our Father in heaven at the times I need it most. I can express how I felt later on during tefilla or in Hisbodedus, (personal prayer), but there is nothing like being able to cry out in heat of the moment.
Here Rebbe Nachman of Breslov hands us the golden key. This is what he says:
Know, that it is possible to scream with a thin and still voice — a tremendous cry which no person will hear at all. Everyone can accomplish this. This is done by “picturing” the sound of the scream in one’s mind and focusing upon it intensely.” (Sichos HaRan 16)
A common theme throughout the writings of Rebbe Nachman is the tremendous power of the mind. In one place, Rebbe Nachman writes that one can give up his life for Hashem using only his mind (Likutei Moharan 193) In another, he says that one can use his mind to affect certain realities. (Sichos Haran 62) In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman is teaching us a way to use our minds in order to increase our connectivity with Hashem throughout our lives, particularly in scenarios where it would have otherwise been impossible.
His method? The Silent Scream.
Although it may be socially inappropriate to begin hollering heavenward when coffee spills on your shirt at the office if it is only in your mind, it is perfectly OK. Hold the sound of a rising scream in your mind, allowing it to expand and fill every corner of your consciousness. Close your eyes and concentrate only on this piercing sound and on its destination, the Master of the world. Doing this carries all the benefits of calling out to Hashem at a time of need and none of the disadvantages. It is a wonderful way to make our relationship with Hashem ever more personal and relevant.
In the last stanza of the Ana B’Koach prayer penned by the great Tanna R’ Nechunia ben Hakana, we read “U’shema tzakaseinu, yodeia ta’alumos”, “And hear our cry, Knower of those things which are hidden.” Focusing on this line, we are struck by an apparent difficulty. The juxtaposition of these two concepts; Hashem’s hearing our cries and His knowing that which is hidden seems strange. What does His knowing hidden things have to do with His hearing our cries?
Based on this lesson from Rebbe Nachman, this stanza comes into focus. Perhaps we may suggest that in this line, R’ Nechunia was referring to the silent scream, the scream from within the Jewish soul which no one will ever hear aside from Hashem, the “knower of those things which are hidden”. Hashem is the “yodeia ta’alumos”. He is completely tuned in to the frequency of our inner emotions and ready to respond when we call to Him, “V’karov eilai bkari eilav”, “He is close to me when I call to Him.” (Anim Zemiros prayer)
Certain televised game shows such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” allow their contestants to make use of a “lifeline”. This means that if they find themselves stuck on a particularly difficult question, they are allowed to call a knowledgeable friend or ask the audience for help with the solution. However, in these games, the lifeline may only be used once and even then only in specific stages of the program.
When it comes to the great game of life, we oftentimes encounter questions that leave us stumped. Whether small annoyances that disrupt our day or larger trials and tribulations we can neither understand nor endure, we feel unable to answer the divine call to challenge. We wrack our minds for a solution, searching our souls for the strength to carry on, but we come up empty. Full of compassion for His precious children, the Designer of this reality show built an unlimited number of lifelines into the rules of the game. These appeals for assistance may be used at any time and in any place. All we need is to know the secret of the Silent Scream. When we remember this teaching, then regardless of the setting, we will be able to utilize our private line to the Source of life and request His help in coming up with the necessary answer to our trials and tribulations. We can be sure that we will soon hear His loving answer echo in the strength welling up within, enabling us to carry on with a spring in our step.
Yaakov Klein is the author of “Sparks from Berditchov: An Inspirational Guide to Avodas Hashem” recently published by Feldheim. His next book, “Sunlight of Redemption”, will be in stores this coming January. This essay is an excerpt from his third book, Sparks from Breslov. Yaakov’s essays on a broad range of Torah thought have been featured in print and on the web. Originally from Far Rockaway, New York, Yaakov currently lives in Chicago with his wife Shira, where he teaches for the Illinois Center for Jewish Studies and writes for the Chicago Jewish Home. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook for questions and comments.