"I have often regretted having spoken, never having kept silent" -Publilius Syrus
I saw this quote in my Twitter stream today. Silence is a wonderful thing, and we do respect it in Jewish tradition. However, there are times when silence is cause for regret. That is the lesson of a Midrash about Pharoh’s 3 advisers.
This past Shabbos, we read the first parsha in the Book of Shemos [Exodus], which shares the same name. It tells the story of the enslavement of the descendants of the children of Israel. Not content with slavery, the Egyptians moved onto oppression and a form of genocide -- killing all the baby boys.
According to the Midrash, it was Bilaam (to be encountered again in the parsha of Balak) who gave the evil advice to kill all the newborn boys. Yithro opposed the idea. He had to flee for his life, but then got to the honor of becoming Moshe’s father-in-law. There was a third, who appeared to be neutral. That was Iyov [ Job] He didn’t promote the evil plan, but he also failed to oppose it.
Because he opted for neutrality when opposition was called for, Iyov had to endure the severe suffering recounted in his book. Iyov did not start out as a bad person. He thought his protest would be futile and didn't wish to be a hero. But there are times when the situation calls for heroism, and anything less puts one into the category of acquiescing to evil through one's silence.
As one of my teachers was fond of quoting, "Silence is acquiescence." He would add, "If you do not acquiesce, do not silence."