The Torah in Parashat Shemot tells the famous story of Moshe fatally striking an Egyptian taskmaster whom he witnessed beating an Israelite slave. We read that after Moshe killed the taskmaster, he “buried him in the sand” (2:12).
The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 1:31) explains the term “chol” (“sand”) in this verse as an allegorical reference to Benei Yisrael. Moshe buried the taskmaster among Benei Yisrael, feeling confident that the secret of what happened would be kept with them. He felt secure, the Midrash explains, because Benei Yisrael have been compared to sand. Unlike other materials such as rocks and sticks, sand does not make noise as it moves or is shifted. Similarly, Moshe felt that Benei Yisrael could be trusted with the sensitive information of his killing the taskmaster, as they were not, by nature, disposed to gossip. Unfortunately, it took just one or several gossips who broke from this tradition and spread the news, which eventually reached the ears of Pharaoh.
Another Midrashic source, cited in Torah Sheleima (note 106), takes the association between sand and silence in a different direction. According to this passage, which appears in one version of the Tanchuma Yashan, the “sand” alludes to the fact that “Yisrael go from place to place, from exile to exile, and do not produce a sound.” Despite all the tribulations Benei Yisrael endure, they place they trust in the Almighty and do not complain. They remain silent, like the sand, patiently accepting God’s decrees and trusting that a happier future awaits them.
These two Midrashic passages point to the two types of “noise” that people often make but which we need to avoid: spreading negative information about others, and complaints. The common denominator between these two forms of speech is negativity, focusing on what is wrong, either with others or with our lives. Drawing upon the special silent quality of sand, Chazal here urge us to approach people and our lives generally with a positive, hopeful outlook, to focus our attention on all that is good about the people around us, about the world and about life, rather than constantly speaking about all that is wrong with them.