Shemini

April 14, 2017

Torah Thought

At this sacred season of re-consecration to recollection, we are poised between Yom Hashoah’s monumental burden of sorrow and Yom Ha’ Atzmaout’s transforming joy. We pause at this great twilight oscillating between the helplessness of Yeoush’s despair and Hatikvah’s hopefulness of Yeshua’s salvation. 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 those in the fall, sanctified through our people’s blood and resolve, so curiously close to Pesach’s twin themes of bitter enslavement and ever promising redemption.

Celebrating Israel’s 69th anniversary, we look forward to the 50th jubilee of the 1967 Six-Day-War’s miraculous victory, and the reunification of Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital. We recall the preceding gripping fear of another Holocaust, this time by the surrounding and menacing Arab states begrudging the triumphant survival of European Jewry’s remnant which includes my own family. At last, all of Jerusalem’s holy sites are safeguarded and respected as we pray for Shalom’s blessing of elusive peace to embrace Israelis and Palestinians—with the latter finally accepting the exceptional return of an ancient people uprooted from its native land by the Roman sword’s power for two trying millennia, yet never abandoning its divine bond with Zion and Jerusalem, thus proving the superiority of the soul’s power.

We marvel at Israel’s world-class astonishing accomplishments and innovations in its brief and challenging years of renewed sovereignty, even as it faces Iran along with its proxies’ undiminished existential threats and the close presence of ISIS and Jihadist groups with the tragic Syrian scenario entering its sixth year of massive human destruction and the greatest refugee crisis since WWII . New opportunities have emerged for rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Arab states. We bemoan the precipitous and alarming global rise of anti-Semitism, the world’s oldest hatred that made the Holocaust possible. The threats within the United States against Jewish institutions, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Israel/Jewish activities in American schools make mockery of sacred memory, justice and truth, while enabling aggressors to persist and delay peace.

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 he 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 to 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 Dr. Israel Zoberman

Letter to the Editor