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Nothing Really Matters

Nothing Really Matters

A "Moment of Silence" to start the schoolday

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Have I complained before about life moving too quickly? (Or am I just getting old?) Today, I would like to complain about .5 of a second. It happened so quickly, but it continues to disturb me. Actually, what did not happen is what's bothering me. And what did not happen? Well, nothing is what did not happen, and it did not happen at a point when I really needed nothing.

Are you familiar with that .5 seconds of "nothing" of which I speak? It is the pause in a conversation that gives you the feeling that something meaningful is happening. It implies that the other person is actually listening and absorbing what you had to say. And then comes a thoughtful response. It is a mere half a second, but this little "nothing" carries profound meaning.

Perhaps what we need is a little "white space." A moment of silence That pause in a conversation is just as important as the words that follow it. It may even be more essential. Look at the white spaces between the letters on this page; aren't they as important as the letters themselves? The pause in music can convey an even more powerful message than the chords. Silence gives significance to that which is around it.

The Talmud (Megillah 18) tells us that if a word is worth a selah (the currency of that time), silence is worth two. With all the information and noise flying around in our day, I think the silence premium may have even risen.


There is one very practical and beneficial way to apply this silence. By beneficial, I mean that it could elevate the entire platform of our society.

Each and every school day, tens of millions of children begin their day of study and growth. They jump right into their invigorating subjects of arithmetic, social studies, science, English, etc. But what does it all mean? What purpose does it serve? What will they do with all this knowledge and expertise five, ten and 50 years down the road? Will they use it to benefit themselves, their fellow human beings and the world in which they live? Or, will they make this world a little less livable?

In the history of mankind--including its fairly recent history--there have been societies that excelled in academics but failed miserably when it came to humanity. According to many recent studies, even in our own society nothing really matters. We are raising a generation of entitlement with flimsy moral values (a slight overstatement).

Perhaps what we need is a little "white space." A moment of silence.

We can empower our children with "nothing." A moment at the beginning of their day that could give context and meaning to the hours that follow. During this moment, the children could reflect on meaning--on the why of their learning, rather than just the how.

What will our children do they do with all this knowledge and expertise five, 10, or 50 years after they finish school? The obvious question, of course, is: who would give them that meaning? Two hundred years ago, we Americans decided that we don't want a state religion. We don't want the government dispensing moral guidance to our children. That's why we have the "Establishment Clause" in our constitution mandating the separation of church and state. Rightly or wrongly, this means that no public school teacher can get up in front of the classroom and speak about a moral code of conduct predicated upon man's responsibility to a Higher Authority.

That's why we need a moment of silence. The only instruction public school children will get from their teachers is that they should utilize this time for personal reflection. And who will tell them what to think about? What a great question! How about their parents? This could bring about a phenomenal unintended consequence: a dialogue between children and parents about meaning.

For those parents who choose to do so, this will be an opportunity to talk with their children about a Creator who bestows life and to whom we are accountable. And for all parents, it will be a means of connecting their children's academic studies to the moral values they wish to pass on to them.

In this way, space can be made in the consciousness of our children for a higher purpose for their learning. Worst case scenario is they will daydream about the same thing they dream about during history class. Nothing lost. The best case scenario is our next generation will start their day with a focus on something higher. All of their subjects of study, and indeed their entire life, will be given context and meaning. Nothing really matters.

Editor's note: A number of states have passed laws providing for a "moment of silence" in their public schools. An important bill mandating such a moment of reflection is currently before the New York State legislature. If you live in New York State, please urge your assemblyman and state senator to support this bill.

Rabbi Yisrael Rice is the Executive Director of Chabad of Marin, Marin County, California and Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Learning Institute. He is the creator of the "Infinite Within" seminar and author of "The Kabbalah of Now."
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Malka Stern February 4, 2014

A moment of reflection is not the same as establishing school prayer.

If non-denominational prayer would be accepted, I might be for it. Of course, even that would not be enforceable under Constitutional Law for an individual, even it were to be mandated in schools.

But folks, we're not talking about prayer. Reflection, as opposed to prayer, is done quietly, with no words. Prayer has specific words/doctrines. Quiet reflection is a human need…just that modern technology has made it far less likely to "happen" on its own. Hence, by a school making room for it BEFORE studying, it is sending a message: before you even begin to use your mind to achieve the heights only it can, realize that you may want time to reflect about what the search for knowledge means to you---[each INDIVIDUAL fills in the blanks]. Reply

Michael Fenton New Jersey November 6, 2013

Silence is code for prayer, period How sad it is to see present day Americans advocating for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape. Every religion and sect would have the government legislate their beliefs if allowed...every one. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena, Michigan USA November 4, 2013

"A moment of silence" is code for prayer, so be careful We have trod this political path before, and we are visiting the subject again? Evangelical groups will evangelize and proselytize no end because they are mandated to do so by scripture. I think our children these days, rather, should be given more opportunity to hear the WRITTEN language. Educationally, there is nothing like hearing and reading the written language (in quantity, by the way) to make good readers and perhaps good thinkers. Parents would be better advised to read to their children of any age, but especially preschool, rather than shifting part of the job in the form of a moment of silence, or prayer, to the school. Reply

Anonymous November 3, 2013

It's not a moment to pray, it's a moment to reflect! Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena,, Michigan, USA June 22, 2011

Value of silence Public school students for years and years in the past have rested in silence after lunch every day before the afternoon starts. Rest is one thing, but something resembling prayer or religious meditation is sectarian.

I'd be surprised if that is practiced in classrooms today, as students would have to be quiet and stop talking! Reply

Laura Ellen Truelove Sewanee, TN, USA June 22, 2011

The Importance of Silence Silence is so very important to each one of us in our harried and noisy lives in my humble opinion. Some of us like to spend at least 30 minutes a day in silence and believe it may be the most important half hour of our day. It is in silence that our spiritual lives are awakened and then deepened as we spend more and more time in silence. There is a rest that comes into our souls that only silence brings.

It is important to teach children the value of silence. Some children live in environments where there is no pause, no silence, only constant noise. To have silent time during the school day is imperative to a child's emotional and spiritual development. Perhaps the psalmist would agree. "My soul in silence waits for G-d alone." Reply

Earthdave Vancouver, Canada November 11, 2009

And to the north... I'm Canadian but I see the same sort of battle by the right (usually the Christian right) to get prayer into schools. And if that's not legally possible, then a 'moment of quiet reflection'. Which, come on, is a euphemism for prayer.
And here, if they can't get that, they appeal to patriotism and ask for the national anthem to be played every Monday morning. Why, because it is all tied together historically and is a way of binding individuals to the 'common cause', driving us like sheep. Even over cliffs of wartime slaughter.
I agree that students should be encouraged that contemplate WHY they learn but they need a guided discussion, in ethics or guidance classes. Having them sit silently in the morning for 60 seconds isn't going to do it. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena, MI May 18, 2009

"Moment of Silence" anonymous gets to the heart of the matter of prayer in public school. Of course it is a political question-- one of power-- and weakening the First Amendment. Why are the "national day of prayer" acitivities held every year at city halls across the country? Because city hall represents government; and our public schools are called, pejoratively by the religious right, "government" schools. The far right agenda is to make this a "Christian" country, and legislated prayer in public schools is a part of the plan.. Reply

Anonymous May 13, 2009

View from a Student that Actually Has to Do this: EVERY SINGLE DAY the ENTIRE high school has to stand for a whole minute, and because it is everyday, everybody stands and is not allowed to sit and is waiting for the minute to be over, not using it. It is a waste of time. You want students to think/pray? Let them do it while they're walking through the halls. I'm atheist and my teachers do tell me that it is a moment to pray. While it is not meant to be religious, it is. Sorry, but I think it does infringe upon my rights. People are going to make me stand so they can pray instead of work? This is why America is behind... Reply

jane doe March 11, 2009

We all do things at our own rate, accept us. I am 18 years old, Im a human being who deserves just as much respect as a person 30 ,40 or even 50 years old so don't underestimate me. A moment of silence is not necessary, as a student I do not want my school to tell me when i should reflect on my life. I spend a LARGE amount of my time reflecting on my life, and I don't believe my time and my peers time should be united. We all do things at our own rate and we all have times in our day that a very religious person could interpret as our "spiritual time" or prayer time. We should all take this into consideration and accept others for who they are and how they do "prayer" The moment of silence is an attempt to force us all into one unified thinking, one unified indiscriminate prayer. One universal dominant indiscriminate religion. Not everyone believes in any religion at all. There are many ways to live and not believing in religion at all is one of them. Respect the humans who meditate, reflect, think, or pray at there own time. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena, Michigan, USA January 7, 2009

moment of silence in the classroom A moment of silence in the public classroom of today???? Oh, yes, we are considering a moment given over to reflection. Children are often given the opportunity to rest a few minutes after intense activity at lunch, after gym, etc. I told my fifth graders some years back they were free to think whatever they wanted-- their minds could travel to places anywhere and beyond.... It is only when the moment-of-silence is legislated that a problem arises. It has been abused in the past by the religious, so forbidden in public education today. Meanwhille, children need to know they can pray, meditate, cogitate, daydream... many minutes during the school day on their own. Reply

Yosef ben Eliazer California via chabadnp.com October 27, 2007

Silence Is Golden Every religion has a contemplative tradition within its teaching for a very important reason: to allow ourselves to separate our awareness from the constant barage of thoughts and desires; to gain a clearer view of the potency of the present moment in revealing simple truth to us. Many religions, most notably Judaism as I understand from my limited knowledge, includse the use of blessings for this purpose - to take a breath, literally and figuratiely, to appreciate the meaning in each experience, and to draw out our own best selves, some might say the part of us closest to G-D, so that we can make the most ethical decisions that impact others, as well as the most healthful and respectful decisions for ourselves. While I laud the idea of taking a moment prior to learning (i.e. in a school) to connect to reverence and appreciation, this moment will only have meaning if it is part of a larger project the informs a whole life. If this were the case, the controversy would not exist. Reply

Jason September 21, 2007

A little more to it I believe the idea of reflection to be a very good thing. However, I think the general fear is that where institutionalized prayer formerally existed in schools it will continue under the guise of a moment of silence. In which the same pressures of the institutions/classes beliefs would still be pushed on individuals, just less overtly.
As well, the affects of a moment of silence I think have been greatly exagerated in these posts. I think more good would come from posing questions about meaning and humanity then followed by contemplation. An ethics class would be far more productive.
I'd like to add that freedom of religion nessecitates freedom from religion when you are refering to institutions that have inherent power (our government). And to allow a religion to be favored gives equal logical right to any other religion to be favored in the future should the balance of power shift. Reply

Roza NY via jewishcolonie.com March 31, 2007

is this communist russia? Even if a child would stop and pray during this minute - what is wrong? Is this communist Russia?? Is that what the American forefathers had in mind? What happened to freedom of religion? Freedom OF Religion or Freedom FROM Religion.

I would just like to quote US District Judge Claude Hilton who ruled this practice to be 100% constitutional: “Students may think as they wish, and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently.”

Since the substance of this reflection time would depend on the free will of each individual, without teacher or government intervention, it does not represent an incursion of the state into the free exercise of religion by the individual. Reply

Y Colonie, NY via jewishcolonie.com March 31, 2007

not religious at all I do not understand how someone could say this is "destroying the protection of the 1st Amendment" when it has no religious implications to it whatsoever?!

The children are SILENT. No prayer. Period. What is wrong with some silence. I asked a kid what he thinks of and he said "what good deed can I do for another kid". Imagine how moral and good that child will grow up to be. Hundreds of minutes of thinking about doing good for others! The kid may just grow up to be a normal, nice person! Reply

Moshe Brooklyn, NY March 28, 2007

A Moment of Silence is Superb I fully support the "Moment of Silence" and am not in the least concerned that it poses a "threat" to minority religions (I happen to be Jewish).

Federal records show that the "Moment of Silence" reduces juvenile delinquency, besides its many psychological benefits.

It also inculcates the notion of 'think before you act', and fosters calm and civility.

Kudos to Chabad for promoting this highly beneficial and meaningful moment! Reply

Anonymous March 28, 2007

Monent of Silence While your essay has substantial merit in the abstract--i.e., a moment of reflection everyday can be a good thing--that moment has no place whatsoever in the PUBLIC schools and, in fact, is extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, the moment of silence is nothing other than a dangerous first step in the march to prayer in schools (indeed, in some states, it was approved immediately follwing the rejection of express prayer legislation. And, of course, the end of this march will be the very state religion (and it will not be Judiasm) that the Establishment Clause so brilliantly has prevented for centuries in this country. Those of minority religious faiths who support the "moment of silence" are fostering a time where Christian prayer in some form will be forced on children of other religions. The saddest part is that it is unnecessary. Your laudable desire for a "moment of silence" can be accomplished at least as effectively at home without destroying the protection of the 1st amendment Reply

Anonymous Birmingham, AL March 28, 2007

Establishment Clause It is interesting to note that schools are permitted by Constitutional law to mention religion and even pray. There is nothing in the Constituiton which prohibits such. The Establishment Clause was made so that the people who governed the state did not also governed a religious institution.
It has only been 20th century challenges to that which have changed things. My parents in the 1920s and 1930s were given time off after lunch several times a week to go to an hour of religious training at their own religious institutions. So Jews went to Hebrew school after lunch and Methodists to Methodist training, etc. Such religios inculcation was deemed extremely important to the survival of the society of the day and it certainly didn't interfere with the Establishment Clause either. I think we would be better off if we went back to such. Reply

Jeff March 25, 2007

Brilliant A brilliant masterpiece, we should all know what is above us. Reply

Sam G. brooklyn, ny March 25, 2007

parent/kid relationship boost What a novel idea! Parents will actually now be forced to spend the time to speak to their kids abot their education, instead of relying on the schools! There's a big problem in today's society, where parents do not have the time and patience to properly educate their children, b/c they are bogged down with problems of making a living and other worries. They therefore leave their child's upbringing, including their moral and ethical behavior, on the shoulders of the school. This moment of silence can be the cure for this prob! it will also boost parent/kid relationships, which aint that good these days to say the least!
koodos to chabad.org! let's get this bill passed pronto! Reply

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