Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 61

April 22, 2021

In Grateful Quietude

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and enjoying the spring weather! We look forward to seeing on Zoom for Shabbat services and for our upcoming adult education offering that we are calling “Irregular Rabbis!”

In the recent Torah portion of Shmini, we read of the sudden death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The boys were two newly minted priests, who brought “strange fire” into the Tabernacle, fires which God had not commanded. On what should have been ostensibly Aaron’s greatest moment as a religious leader, he is left to respond to family tragedy. The text tells us, Vayidom Aharon, that Aaron was silent. The Bible quickly leaps over entire worlds of emotion, drama, and process, rushing past these deaths, while glossing over crucial details. While this might feel frustrating, it is precisely these gaps that leave us room to ponder, to speculate, to fill in, and to receive new insights each time we encounter this difficult textual passage.

On a most basic level, Aaron might simply have been speechless. There are situations, where one simply does not know what to say and where it might take hours, days, weeks, or even months to process what has happened. Alternatively, Aaron might have been holding himself back from reacting. Certainly, with a maelstrom of emotion raging in his heart and mind, he does not feel it is the time or place to release his emotions. While either interpretation is possible, commentaries laud Aaron’s silence in the face of death by God’s decree.

Backing up three weeks ago, entering Shabbat on the seventh day of Pesach, my mother, Rae, was called to her eternal reward. Unlike Aaron, I can tell you that in the face of the sudden passing, I was not silent. Rather, I expressed my emotion and, as is Jewish tradition, asked my children to give me a knife so that I could cut Keriah (rend my garment). Needless-to-say, they did not automatically recognize my behavioral reaction and were shocked by my immediate request.

Throughout the process, I have found great comfort from the many folks from our synagogue communities, who reached out to me, sent emails and cards, called, texted, and visited.

After the initial shock of her passing and the disappointment of not having been able to attend the funeral, I used the time to emulate Aaron; not through complete silence, but rather through adopting a position of acceptance and gratitude. In quietude, I reflected on my mother’s life, her journey, her idiosyncrasies, and her great spiritual strength. In quietude (SHOULD THE SECOND “QUIETUDE” BE “GRATITUDE?”), I shared stories, participated in Zoom, as well as in-person, Shiva services, and traversed through the week with acceptance.

I am acutely aware that so many people in the country, and even in our own communities, have been touched by encounters with death throughout the pandemic. Each has had to decide how they wanted to grieve and how they wanted to honor their loved one. This is part of the process of life, but it is never easy.

In closing, I existentially recognize the fragility and gift of life and pray that through memory and holiness, we can all find the benefit of silence, our moments of gratitude, the strength of acceptance, and the power of blessed reflection, when we inevitably encounter the ultimate rites of passage.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom U’mevorach (with blessings)!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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