Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47): A Time To Be Silent?

Spiral Jetty, United States. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
Spiral Jetty, United States. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

This week’s portion confronts us with a variety of issues. The most glaring and famous is the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu who are killed after offering a sacrifice that was not according to the official ritual. (10:1-3) In just three verses this drama is played out. The sons are killed. Aaron is told that this again shows God’s authority. “And Aaron was silent”.

Silence in the face of the death of these two sons. Certainly all of us have had the experience of being with someone, or in our own life, when words fail us. In the moment we cannot speak for “there are no words”. There are moments when we know that it is best to keep silent for to speak may antagonize or create harm, as Pirke Avot cautions us that it is always best not to speak out in the midst of anger.( Avot 4:18) There are moments when we realize that to NOT speak gives tacit permission for evil to continue. History is filled with those moments when dedicated people saw the need not for silence, but words that moved people to act. As we get older, often we learn that moments and circumstances dictate when to speak and often, what to say and how to say it. Maybe that comes with the wisdom of aging.

Now, this silence is being played out in a different way because of the pandemic. So many funerals and shiva are now conducted in isolation. There is a different kind silence. Consider the mourner who is not allowed to go to the chapel or grave, who sits on Zoom listening to players, alone and isolated; a silence of a different kind. We are all making a “strange sacrifice” on so many levels; some people more than others. It is a silence that we never before have experienced. One hopes that in this silence, we can find renewed strength for our future.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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