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Achare 5782 ~ April 29, 2022

One of the most difficult realities of Torah is found in our Torah reading for this Shabbat. The death of Aaron’s two sons, quite honestly, was not something that anyone was prepared for during the week of celebration and festivities of the consecration of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness, and of the kohanim, the priests. 

What is most striking about the events is the fact that neither Nadav or Avihu were given the opportunity by God to repent for their actions. They simply perished in the Tent of Meeting, as a fire swooped down upon them as they entered the Holy of Holies.

The Torah states that Aaron remained silent, upon hearing about his sons’ deaths. Some say it was out of the fact that he was deeply distressed by their deaths. Others suggest that Aaron was in denial.  And yet others suggested, that Aaron did not want to place the blame on his sons for their actions that caused God’s fiery wrath to consume them. Perhaps it was simply that Aaron was taking in the words of what everyone was saying to him at that moment, especially the words of his brother Moses, and rather than lash out in anger, he simply remained silent. Might it be that Aaron was distressed by the fact that his sons were not given the opportunity to seek forgiveness for whatever misdeed they might have committed? Or perhaps Aaron’s silence was a declaration of their innocence, and the wrong committed against them.

There are certain times when the actions of another are simply unconscionable. Throughout this week, we commemorate Yom HaShoah. Needless to say, even the heinous Nazis, were afforded a fair trial, something which Aaron’s two sons had not been given. The 6,000,000 Jews and the millions of others who perished at their hands, on the other hand, are often compared to Nadav and Avihu, both experiencing tragic experiences of death.

For those in the Shoah period, the question has often been asked: what was their crime to God and to humanity?  Or paraphrasing the words of Elie Wiesel: What was God’s crime to humanity?

As Jews, we understand that the real question was not what was the sin of the Jewish people? The real question was what was the sin of humanity against the Jewish people and others who perished at the hands of the Nazis? Has the world learned from that most sad and troubling era in world history?

Needless to say, as we witness the events in Ukraine, we ask that question? Many of us placed Sunflowers on our Seder tables, as an expression of our hope for Ukraine and its people. Perhaps we see hope through the actions of the reaction of neighboring countries who have provided a refuge for those millions who were able to escape the barrage of war and the inexcusable war and aggression of Putin upon a democratic country and innocent civilians. Then again, one of those countries has denied its own responsibility of crimes committed during the Shoah.

I was touched by the words of the students from the school in Germany that joined our communal Yom HaShoah program. I was saddened to hear their stories of how their parents and grandparents did not speak of the atrocities of the Holocaust . Had they internalized the guilt of the generation of the Shoah, and just as Jewish survivors rarely shared their stories with their children, they kept silent? Or might it be something more, something we experience here in America, of those who wish to bury the historical past. 

And what is the rational here in 2022 in America or in Germany? Some do so simply because they are embarrassed; some wanting to protect their children from the tragic reality; some out of denial of the historical truths; some out of political philosophy; some out of a need to feel their own superiority over others, and some out of ignorance.

What I truly admired in the stories of those students from Germany, was their honesty in sharing with us that while they are studying about the Shoah, (and how they have created their own narrative through film and drama, to understand and to recreate), they have growing concerns about their peers and the growth of anti-Semitism and Nazi sentiment within certain groups in their school. I was impressed by their teacher who is fostering within them an understanding, of not only the depths of the Shoah, but also how to combat the thoughts and actions of those who do not understand.  And it was heartwarming to  know that while they are not assuming the guilt of a previous generation upon themselves, nor should they, these young adults are making every attempt to react by correcting its future possibilities.

The Torah shared with us the tragic events, and did not hide us from them. Nor did the Torah hide the reaction of Aaron or Moses.  And while it is important to understand the cause and effect, especially in a world where the ignorant once again seem to be denying the truths, the lesson may be self-evident. And that is the lesson of our Torah reading, Acharei Mot,  “After the Deaths (of Aaron’s two sons).”

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782