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Rabbi Safman's Weekly Message

Dear Friends,

As we join together to celebrate Shabbat we invite you to bring a kiddush cup or any glass filled with wine or grape juice and join together with us at the end of services to share in a l'chayim.

I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you.


Chukkat 5784

Death is not an easy concept to deal with. We all know that it is one of the two items that we must always deal with. The other being taxes. Taking time to discuss how we handle death is not always the most pleasant of discussions. Our Torah reading opens with the concept of death, and how to deal with the literal impurity associated being in close proximity to the body of one who has died.

In this week’s Torah reading, two of the great leaders of the Israelite nation pass away. The first is Miriam; the second is Aaron. And based on the narrative within our Torah reading for this Shabbat, we also note that it is only time until Moses himself passes away.

What must have been most difficult for Moses, is to witness the death of his siblings. Each in their own right were there for him as guideposts and protectors. It was Miriam, who watched Moses, as he was placed in the basket in the Nile. It was Miriam who spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter, finding a wetnurse, in that of Miriam’s mother. It was Aaron, who served as Moses’ voice to the Pharaoh, since Moshe was a stutterer.

Throughout the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, Miriam and Aaron play essential roles. Miriam was the leader of the women. Her merits at the Nile when Moses was first born, became God’s promise of water, for the Children of Israel throughout their travels in the wilderness. As Moses’ spokesperson, Aaron became the Kohen Hagadol, the High Priest for the Israelite nation.

Not every moment in the lives of Moses and his siblings was affectionate or loving. A few weeks ago, we read in our Torah reading of dissension in old age between these two siblings and their brother Moses. As we learn through rabbinic tradition, perhaps they misunderstood the circumstances. And as the scene unfolds, they recognize the love and concern that Moses has for each one of them.

How difficult it must have been for Moses to heed the command of God to remove the High Priest’s vestments from his elder brother Aaron, and place them on his nephew Eleazar! While the Torah does not share with us the final words of Aaron to Moses and Moses to Aaron, I wonder what one might have said to the other.  

Rashi shares a piece from the midrash as to what the rabbis thought Moses said as his final parting words to his brother Aaron: “He, (Moses), said to him, (Aaron), “Enter the cave," and he entered.”

What cave was that?  The cave of the Patriarchs, a place of honor and respect that was reserved for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in Gan Eden. He was stating that Aaron deserved that honor.  Moses prayed that would be the resting place for his brother Aaron, where souls come to rest at the end of the journey of life.

Rashi continues, “He (Moses) saw a bed already made (more lit., outspread, i.e., with its sheets, etc.) and a light burning. He said to him, “Ascend the bed,” and he ascended. — “Stretch out your hands,” and he stretched them out. — “Close your mouth,” and he closed it. — “Close your eyes,” and he closed them. (Sifre).

It is often the hardest, yet one of the most altruistic moments, when one gives permission to the one dying to let go. Witnessing Moses words, one has to wonder, what might be my final words to my loved one. Often it is not rehearsed. It is genuine. I kind of think it would be somewhat haunting to rehearse such words.

Here is what Aaron responds to Moses, according to the Midrash Lekach Tov. He shares what it is like to begin the journey with the following: “how peaceful this moment is for him and he wished that everyone’s death would be as peaceful.”

Several in our community have experienced such a moment. Hopefully those words were shared memories of happy times. Some might have been words expressing forgiveness, and a final moment of connectedness and love. Others might leave with a passing thought or hope for the one who is remaining or passing on the baton as the leader of the family. One might even express a hope that the loved one would get to meet the already departed loved ones in Gan Eden. Some of these moments may have been loving; others painful.

I have never thought in such terms while reading this moment in the Torah narrative. But as I get older, I guess what I can relate to is not the end-of-life comments; rather it is the day-to-day comments between siblings.

Perhaps that is what the Torah is trying to share with us. To know what to say and how to be genuine in this part of our lives.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi K


Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784