Volume 4 Issue 29
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Tragedies happen. Unfortunately, we can't control them, and we have to
learn to live with their consequences, as we try to continue our lives.
Tragedy does not discriminate. It touches the lives of the wealthy and the
poor, the wicked and the righteous. The Torah does not avoid telling us
about the greatest of tragedies that happened to the most righteous of men.
This week it describes the tragedy that occurred to one our greatest
leaders, Ahron the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). His two children, Nadav and
Avihu, were tragically consumed by fire while bringing an undesignated
offering to Hashem. Moshe is faced with the most difficult of
challenges, consoling his bereaved brother who just lost two of his
beloved children. The challenge is great and the words of consolation that
Moshe used should serve as a precedent for all consolation for generations.
Moshe consoles Ahron by telling him, "This is what Hashem has previously
said: By those who are close to me I shall be sanctified and thus I will be
honored by the entire congregation" (Leviticus 10:3). Powerful words. Deep
and mystical. We are in this world by G-d's command, and our mission is to
maintain and promote His glory. Those are words that may not console
simple folk, but they were enough for Ahron who after hearing the words
went from weeping to silence. But Moshe did not just quote the Torah, he
prefaced his remarks: "This is what Hashem has previously said." Only after
that premise does he continue with the words of consolation. Why was it
necessary to preface those powerful words by saying that they were once
stated? After all, the entire Torah was once stated. Could Moshe not just
as easily have stated, "My dear brother Ahron. Hashem is glorified by
judgment of his dear ones."
It seems that the familiarity of the statements was part and parcel of its
consoling theme. Why?
The sudden death of Reb Yosef could not have come at a more untimely time
- a few days before Passover. A Holocaust survivor, he had rebuilt his life
in Canada and left this world a successful businessman, with a wonderful
wife, children, and grandchildren. It was difficult, however, for them all
to leave their families for the first days of Passover to accompany his
body, and thus his widow traveled with her son to bury her husband in
Israel. After the funeral the two mourners sat in their apartment in the
Shaarei Chesed section of Jerusalem. Passover was fast approaching, and
they were planning to spend the Seder at the home of relatives. As they
were about to end the brief Shiva period and leave their apartment, a soft
knocked interrupted their thoughts. At the door to her apartment stood none
other than one of Israel's most revered Torah sages, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman
"I live nearby," he said, "and I heard that there was a funeral today. I
came to offer my condolences."
The sage then heard a brief history of Reb Yosef's difficult, yet
remarkably triumphant life.
Then Reb Shlomo Zalman turned to the widow and asked a very strange
question. "Did you say the blessing Boruch Dayan HaEmes? Blessed are You,
Hashem, the true Judge." (This blessing acknowledges the acceptance of
Hashem as the Master Planner of all events acknowledging that all that
happens is for the best.)
"Why? Yes," answered the elderly lady. "I said it right as the funeral
ended. But it is very difficult to understand and accept."
Reb Shlomo Zalman, a man who lived through dire poverty and illness, four
wars, and the murder of a relative by Arab terrorists, nodded. "I
understand your questions. That blessing is very difficult to understand
and to accept. You must, however, say it again and again. As difficult as
it may be, believe me, if you repeat it enough you will understand it."
Moshe understood that as difficult as it may be, the words he used to
console Ahron were the precise ones that encompassed the essence of the
meaning of life and death. They would be understood by Ahron. But he had
to preface it by saying that this not a new form of condolence. It has been
said before. It was already taught. Now it must repeated.
Difficult questions have no simple answers, but it is the faith of
generations that must be constantly repeated and repeated. There are no new
condolences; there are no fast answers. The only answers we can give are
those that have been said for generations. Perhaps that is why we console
our loved ones today with the same consolation that has been said for
centuries. "May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and
Jerusalem." And it shall be repeated - again and again -- until there is no
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
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