Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

The Sound of Silence

At this time, people worldwide are wondering about the same things. What is the meaning of this crisis we are going through? Is there a message that is hidden in this? What is a man (or even a nation) in the greater scheme of things? What kind of life is a man meant to be living? Leaving aside the practical (and important) questions of economy and employment, there is a spiritual dimension. And, finally, the biggest question of all: who can answer all these questions?

If I buy a new kitchen appliance or a tech gadget, there will be a Users’ Manual coming with it. Should I use my new toy in a way that does not comply with those instructions, I would be forfeiting the guarantee I received for my gadget. My insurance would not cover damage due to my acting contrary to the related instructions. Where would I go if I simply did not comprehend the manual? For sure, I would need to speak with the manufacturer.

Lately, I was thinking that a man also comes with a Users’ Manual.

First, when G-d created man, He knew what He was doing (Gen. 1:27): “So G-d created man in His own image…” When G-d had created the world and everything in it, the Bible tells us that He rested (Gen. 2:2): “And on the seventh day G-d ended His work which He had done and He rested on the seventh day...” This rest was so very important that it became one of the Ten Commandments  (Ex. 20:8): “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Today for sure we know that if a person does not rest, there will be serious consequences.

Work, toiling hard, and sadly in many parts of the world, barely making a living, only came to us as a result of man’s fall into sin. Gen. 3:17-19: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it…In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread...”

One of the most severe commandments of the Bible is the prohibition against idolatry, repeated in many contexts, such as Lev. 26:1: “You shall not make idols for yourselves…” Here there is a direct link to our age. To many of us work has become an idol. This is an idol that for years takes the time man is supposed to give first to G-d, then to his neighbors. This is an idol that eventually takes a person’s health. Today’s medicine knows that constant stress, eating unhealthy, lack of exercise and lack of sleep almost inevitably lead to very serious conditions. Greed can be individual and national. In the Bible, we see that when the land did not receive its rest, mandated by G-d, there was no choice but to force rest on it (Lev. 26:33-34): “…your land shall be desolate…then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths.”

Regardless of what one thinks about the Bible, as a User’s Manual, we all are having a rest right now. Instead of just trying to end it as quickly as we can, we should be asking ourselves, what is the enforced silence wanting to tell us? Did we go wrong somewhere? Is there any way to change the state of affairs?

Garfunkel (according to Marc Eliot’s biography), when asked about his song, said: “what you see around you are people unable to love each other“.

Right now, what we have around ourselves is the Sound of Silence.

Let us not fill it too quickly.

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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