This week’s Torah portion reports the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The text teaches us that the two sons contributed a sacrifice that did not follow the protocols of the Tabernacle. As a result, they were both consumed by divine fire and died before G-d. This story has been particularly troubling for biblical commentators on a number of levels. The tragedy comes moments after a happy and joyous event, the completion of the Tabernacle, it is not clear why the sin of Nadav and Avihu was so terrible and perhaps most troubling is their father, Aaron’s, reaction.
When Aaron hears about his sons’ deaths he is silent. The word that is given is Vayidom Aharon. Although the direct translation of this phrase is “And Aaron was silent,” the word Vaiydom is closely related to the Hebrew word Dam which means blood. The phrase seems to convey something deeper. Even though Aaron was silent on the outside, his blood was boiling and raging on the inside. Aaron knew that in the face of divine judgment there was nothing he could do, but on the inside he was experiencing profound blood wrenching pain.
I have thought about the word Vayidom as I have continued to encounter the news flowing from Ukraine on a daily basis. We are weeks into this tragedy now and the situation has not changed, in fact it has gotten worse. Attacks on civilians are increasingly commonplace and it appears no place including shelters, humanitarian corridors or hospitals are safe for the Ukrainian people. Stories of refugees being sent to Siberia as punishment and civilians being held hostage in their apartment buildings are reminiscent of a time we thought was long gone.
As I listen to the morning podcasts on the way to work that describe the siege of Mariopol or the murder of a 96 year old Holocaust survivor in Kharkiv, my blood rages at the senslessness of this situation. Yet, I often find that I am silent. Without words.
Indeed, our world here feels so different. We celebrated Purim last week. Today many of our students took off their masks indoors. We are planning for and celebrating so many wonderful events at school and in the lives of Wornick families, and at the same time senseless tragedy is plaguing Europe.
There are two things I know for certain; First, that we must not become accustomed to the cries of pain from Ukraine. And second, that we must continue to live free and meaningful lives in the face of this tragedy. The first is crucial because there is much that we can do. We can donate to the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco which is giving every dollar donated to the JDC to support victims from Ukraine. We can support the hundreds of other wonderful organizations and pressure our lawmakers to do more. When the time comes and refugees start to join our community we can welcome them with open arms and love. The second is vital as well. We live wonderful lives of freedom here in the Bay Area. We are able to celebrate our traditions, express our individuality, and not worry about our security on a constant basis. We must keep living and cherish this freedom as a reminder of what our friends in Ukraine are fighting for.
The experience of watching these events may produce the same reaction as Aaron. Vayidom. But when the time is right we must transcend our silence and take action. Turning our internal anger into external action.