Parashat Shemini

Standing Strong

And Aaron held his peace (Leviticus 10:3)                                                                            וידם אהרן (ויקרא י: ג)

Parashat Shemini describes yet another family tragedy that befell no less than Aaron, the high priest of Israel and his family, on what should have been the joyous occasion of the consecration of the Tabernacle. After Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire before the Lord…there came forth fire from before the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2) We read that after he witnessed the terrible loss of his two eldest sons, “Aaron held his peace.” (Verse 3) Literally, the verse teaches us that “Aaron was silent.” Why was he silent? Rashbam (on verse 3) explains that Aaron held his peace “from his mourning—and he did not cry out nor [exhibit outward displays of] mourning.” While Aaron needed to cry out and felt the internal anguish that any parent would, he recognized that his duty at that moment, as the high priest during a joyous consecration—required his silence. So he summoned the emotional fortitude to stand tall, ready to fulfill his duty to his people.

In Israel in the IDF, when soldiers are called to attention the commander shouts, “Amod Dom”—literally meaning, “Stand silent.” But “Amod Dom!” doesn’t just mean “Silence.” It means “Stand at attention! Prepare yourself for the next command!” Technically, Aaron was silent. But his silence was much more than just silence. Aaron stood at attention.

This coming Monday, Jews around the world will observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. We will remember the terrible loss of Six Million Jewish souls destroyed by the Nazis. Yet, the full name of Yom Hashoah is Yom Hashoah v’hagevurah—the Day of Holocaust and Strength. While the early Knesset members focused on the strength of those who tried to fight back against the Nazi tyranny, in recent years the Jewish community has focused on a different type of gevurah (“strength”). We recognize the strength to stand tall in the face of the impossible; to accept one’s fate without compromising one’s faith; and finally, to refuse to submit to the forces of evil. We recognize this gevurah in the victims who recited the Shema before being murdered by the Nazis and in the tiny efforts to retain any connection to Jewish life in the horror of both the ghettos and the concentration camps. There was also not a small amount of gevurah in the generation of Jews living after the horrors of the Holocaust, who refused to submit or capitulate to the magnitude of the Holocaust, and built a thriving Jewish community in America and a Jewish state in the Promised Land.

This is also the gevurah of the families of the victims of the ongoing attacks in Israel, who follow in Aaron’s footsteps and refuse to capitulate in the face of terror. In his eulogy for Sgt. Taharlev before Passover, Rabbi Dov Zinger, the head of the Mekor Chaim high school where Elchai had studied, noted the juxtaposition of the tragedy to the upcoming Seder night. He said, “As we stand on the eve of the Seder…We will recite the famous passage of Vehi She’amdah which promises that the story will end in a positive manner—that the Holy One with save us from the hands of our oppressors. However, we can also add that the words Vehi She’amdah (“It was she who stood”) refers to the mourning mother, the mourning family, the entire nation of Israel who is in so much pain. Yet, she stands and knows that we will finish this story with praise—in a positive fashion…this gives us the strength to withstand this great pain…We will continue to carry the stretcher like Elchai, with the call of ‘Next Year in [the rebuilt city of] Jerusalem.’” Shabbat Shalom