Sedra of the Week: Shemini

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Sedra of the Week: Shemini

Pnina Savery looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

“Keep calm and carry on” is a favourite British motto. It stems from the stiff upper lip attitude that helped the public stay strong in the face of hardships endured during two world wars.

In this week’s Parsha we read of the tragic death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. There are numerous explanations for their death: from their unauthorised entry into the innermost sanctuary to offering sacrifices after drinking alcohol. 

Perhaps the most outstanding part is Aharon’s response. The text tells us that “Aharon was silent”. There is no outpouring of grief, Aharon continues to carry out his duties in the Tabernacle service. 

Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein provides an interesting insight into Aharon’s reaction. The word va’yidom is used for silence, rather than vayishtok. While the latter denotes an absence of weeping and moaning, the former represents inner peace and calm. Thus, va’yidom portrays Aharon’s ability to accept the situation without questioning. 

This saintly attitude is a clear reference to Aharon’s greatness, which is not something that can be easily emulated. However, his resilience reminds me strongly of the “stiff upper lip” attitude, which can help us to endure struggles. 

Kohelet (3:4) tells us there is a “time for weeping and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing”. Aharon needed to “keep calm and carry on”. 

The past year has sent us new challenges with many reasons to weep and mourn. When we lose a loved one, that loss will always be with us. But Judaism’s structured mourning process gives a framework to grieve, encouraging us to try to find the resilience that will enable us to rebuild our lives. 

  •   Pnina Savery is a United Synagogue educator 

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