March 25, 2022
There is a time for silence and there is a time for screaming out in joy, agony, celebration, or suffering, and in this week’s parashah, Shemini, we read the story of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, and Aaron’s consequent “[numbing] silence.”
It is a strange micro-story with little clarity as to the specific reasons behind Aaron’s two sons’ deaths other than being told that they brought an “alien fire” to Gd for their sacrificial process. Yet, it is not this extreme consequence, which has been discussed extensively by our great rabbis and sages, rather, it is Aaron’s curious state of “yidom” (“dumbstruck silence”) following Moses’ words of consolation that draw the focus of this week’s words of Torah.
Being silent has a time and place. In fact, Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Fathers) shares in 1:17, “All my life I have been raised among the Sages, and I have not found anything better for oneself than silence.” Of course, many of us know the modern version of these sacred words, “Better to remain silent and appear dumb, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The Talmud, in Megillah 18a, carries this recognition of silence further and explains that “A word is valued at a sela [monetary unit], but silence is valued at two selas.”
Obviously, silence has its place and time, and even our traditions and customs around mourning teach us that when visiting the home of a mourner it is appropriate to not say anything until the mourner says something first. Very often the mourner is not interested in conversation, rather, they desire, or simply need, the company without needing to entertain. Even in the modern-day secular world, an event may begin with a “moment of silence” in honor or in memory of someone.
BUT, equally as necessary is to have one’s voice heard at the right time. Gd created humanity with the capacity to speak. We have the ability to express our thoughts, emotions, and abstract concepts. Through speech we build relationships, we agree, we disagree, and we often agree to disagree. Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that the mute cannot “speak”, rather the mute and even those who face each other without a common language simply speak through their unique method of communication.
This brings me to the unspoken words of a Torah Academy of San Antonio (TASA) student this week. As part of TASA’s annual Purim celebrations, and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the vulnerable), TASA students were asked to contribute to our local San Antonio Ukrainian crisis relief efforts. The students did an amazing job and invited me to come on behalf of the vulnerable populations we serve and the escaping refugees in crisis to receive their $801 for the relief efforts.
It was while I visited the school that I was told the story of a student, who himself is a child of a family who receives community support and assistance, who brought $20 to contribute to the effort. Unsurprisingly the school reached out to the parents to make sure that there was no misunderstanding, after which the discussion only validated that this young man took the $20 from his own personal savings to do what he could to help those in need.
This act of generosity, selflessness, acute understanding, and incredible empathy spoke so loudly that we can only pray that the angels and Gd heard this boy’s message too!
The time to speak, to cry out in heartbreak, and to make sure everyone hears about the crisis in Ukraine is now! As Aaron taught us in this week’s text, after death it is too late to raise your voice. We must be heard while our loved ones are still alive.
The Jewish Federation is incredibly proud of our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) who led the local interfaith efforts to advocate to President Biden to accept refugees into the United States. Federation is equally excited to share that Board Chair, Michael Swanson, and I will be traveling to the Polish-Ukrainian border during the first week of April on a Jewish Federations of North America-led solidarity mission to bring as many over-the-counter medicines as we can carry, to personally witness the pain and suffering taking place at these border crossings, and provide whatever support and comfort we can in letting the refugees, the locals, and the humanitarian aid workers know that we will do everything we can to raise our voices and be heard.
Please join us in these local efforts to help. If you are not able to make a financial contribution, please drop off a sealed new package of non-liquid over-the-counter medicines (for a list of requested items click HERE.) These supplies are desperately needed, and we can only do this if we are…