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April 17, 2020
23 Nisan 5780

8th day of the Omer
Parashat Shmini
Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion is about two deaths that seem to come from nowhere, in the middle of a joyful celebration. At the beginning of the Torah portion, we find ourselves at a climatic moment -- the final dedication of the Tabernacle.

The dedication is led by Aaron, the High Priest, resplendent in his priestly garb and surrounded by his four sons. The people are blessed and the glory of Adonai is revealed as a fire of heavenly origin that totally consumes the sacrificial offerings. What a moment! Everything appears to be going well: even better than that -- perfectly.

Suddenly the mood shifts when Aaron’s oldest sons Nadav and Abihu put incense in their pans and bring it forth as an offering. They are instantly consumed by heavenly fire. Previously, they were numbered among the leading 70 elders of the community.

Throughout the millennia, the question has been asked and answered over and over again. How could such a thing happen and why did it happen? No answer is satisfactory to all. Even Moses struggles to find a reason for this extraordinary and tragic occurrence.

His words to Aaron leave us a little lost.
“Don’t show your mourning, lest God become angry with the entire community. But know well that your brethren, the entire House of Israel, shall bewail the burning that God has kindled. Do not leave this place in the Sanctuary, for God’s anointing oil is upon you.”

What was Aaron’s response? Two words. Vyidom Aharon (And Aaron was silent).

Silence. The power of silence. In the face of tragedy there are no words that have the power to comfort, to take away the pain. Aaron responded with silence -- an earth shattering silence. He did not rail against the Divine, nor did he say his sons were being punished.

In the face of tragedy, when things appear to be arbitrary, without justification, and shocking, words fail us.

We are living in a time of world-wide tragedy. Tragedy and illness knows no boundaries. Although there are those who wish to assign blame, this is one of those moments in our history when something beyond our comprehension has occurred.

Aaron was silent. It did not mean that he stopped doing what needed to be done. This is a time of reflection and action. We are being given the opportunity to reflect on who we are and what really matters to each of us and to act, whether that means taking the time to reach out to a friend or a neighbo or to think about how we want the world to look when the phase we are in ends. Aaron changed and so will each of us and the world around us.

It is striking how Aaron’s world changed from one moment to the next, as did ours. We are about to enter the next phase of our journey. May we have the resilience and the strength to go forward, having taken time to be still and to be silent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, January 23 2021 10 Shevat 5781