At this sacred season of reconsecration to recollection, we are poised between Yom Ha’Shoah’s monumental burden of sorrow and Yom Ha’ Atzmaout’s transforming joy. We pause at this great twilight oscillating between the helplessness of Yeoush and Hatikvah’s hopefulness. We turn to the Torah’s Book of Life that we may face the Shoah’s Book of Death. These too are our Days of Awe, no less awesome than the fall ones, sanctified through our people’s blood and resolve, so curiously close to Pesach’s twin themes of bitter enslavement and ever promising redemption.
Parashat Shemini alerts us to the unexpected both in the human condition and the divine response. In the midst of the Tabernacle’s zenith of joyful dedication, two of the four sons of Aaron the High Priest who just a short while ago were all consecrated as Kohanim, are tragically consumed by fire. We are told and taught, though ponder we must, that the victims’ attendance to holy duties went awry.
The text reads, “Va’idom Aaron,” “And Aaron turned silent.” He had no words. Perhaps he could find no words given the shock’s magnitude of a double loss of his dearest of the dear, while ironically performing their sacred service. “Va’idom Aaron,” yet conceivably Aaron chose not to speak that me may not utter, out of the depths of pain, blasphemous words offensive to God and mocking his own calling.
Thus, choosing to remain silent, but not necessarily speechless, was Aaron’s best possible option under terrifying circumstances that challenged him personally as well as professionally, threatening to undo his very being. Insightfully, if not convincingly, a rabbinic commentary blames the disaster on the poor communication between the victims, Nadav and Avihu, along with their familial failure to respect father Aaron and consult with Uncle Moses. Namely, it is ultimately our own conduct or lack of it, which determines the outcome and not necessarily the Divine’s actions.
At the risk of lifting a verse out of context of a sensitive text of theological quagmire, the following resonates with overwhelming relevance to Yom Ha’Shoah, which is observed, no accident, on the week of Shemini. “And your brethren the entire household of Israel will bemoan the srefa, the burning fire.”
The following double parasha of Tazria-Metzora touches upon defiling body conditions on which the rabbis attached an ethical dimension. Leprosy becomes more than a skin ailment. With linguistic aid it is the chosen metaphor for violation, not by God but by one human being against another. To diminish one’s reputation, Motzi Shem Ra, was tantamount to no less than shedding one’s blood. A good name, Shem Tov, was to be a person’s crowning glory. No surprise, the sinfully genocidal Nazi ideology insisted on dehumanizing as a means for a person’s and our people’s total destruction in spirit and body.
Shall we all, the Shoah’s wounded survivors, choose Aaron’s approach of silence as a path, though like him we profusely bleed, or use words, which our enemy manipulated with ease, to contend with a reality we are commanded to change? The covenantal call and cry is clearly our own, “You shall be holy for I am holy” Ken Yehi Ratzon. Amen.
—Rabbi Israel Zoberman, Congregation Beth Chaverim.