Nineteenth century composer Claude Debussy, whose works are still used today in everything fromOcean’s Eleven to the new 90210, said, “Music is the space between the notes.” Silence is so much more than simply not talking, as we learn this week.
This week we read parshat Shemini, which details priestly instructions, including the prohibition from drinking while on the job and the designations for various animals to be considered pure and impure. But somewhat hidden near the beginning is Aaron’s curious reaction to the deaths of his two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu. Although the text goes on to discuss what will happen to his sons’ bodies and how the priests are forbidden from the same mourning rituals as the rest of the people, only two words are used to describe Aaron’s reaction to losing two children: vayidom Aharon. Aaron was still. Aaron was silent.
It’s at the installment of the priests as the leaders of the Jewish people where Aaron’s sons make the unfortunate decision to go beyond the celebration and sacrifice that God has commanded. And for that, Nadav and Avihu die. But what about Aaron? Certainly after the death of a loved one, especially children, emotions can take you by surprise. But Aaron is left speechless, and we are left to figure out why. Many commentators suggest that the silence might have been either in protest of God’s decision, in acceptance of this fate, or perhaps the anguish was too much for words.
Or maybe Aaron is silent because he has learned there is no better way to take a stand and let his feelings be known than by the stillness of silence. In parshat Ki Tissa when the people wanted a new vision of God, Aaron jumped into action, which ultimately left him and the nation in a heap of trouble. And perhaps Aaron saw Moshe’s rage when he descended from the mountain and knew that immediate reaction would lead to regret.
Aaron’s silence could simply be a deep breath, a pause to take in the situation; a moment to think before he speaks, so that his intention would match his actions. We find Aaron lost in the deepest of thoughts in a moment of intense emotion. The text, instead of dwelling on this moment, moves forward, giving Aaron the time to breathe and organize his thoughts and emotions. The power in this moment of silence allows for the reaction to be true, honest and uninterrupted. Even though he cannot mourn as others do, Aaron, in a sense, has the space to mourn.
What is the value of silence? Silence is not necessarily the absence of sound, but perhaps the presence of power and purpose. A quiet moment can result in new clarity or an opportunity for heightened concentration. As we experience life and the ups and downs of learning, we must remember the value of silence and embrace moments of thought and reflection as those moments can also be moments of great strength.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: Chapter 11 of the book of Vayikra details the rules of eating Kosher animals and Kosher slaughter. Our parshah reminds us that maintaining boundaries, no matter how rigid or odd they might seem, helps us to lead a focused and purpose-filled life. Keeping Kosher is more than just limitations or rules on what we eat. This act requires us to have intention with every bite of food we eat, and to maintain awareness of our place in the food chain and our responsibility to God. Take out your Humash, and read chapter 11. Perhaps the next “diet trend” might be mindful eating, because what we put in our bodies matters as we work together to become our kehilah kedoshah, our holy community.