Monday, March 28, 2011

the sound of silence

Havolim says all that needs to be said in terms of the lesson for us to take away from, "Vayidom Aharom," Aharon's silence in response to the death of his children.

A bit of Navardok mussar: Aharon is praised for his silence, but what could he have said? Surely Aharon was no less righteous than the many tzadikim through the ages who faced trials and loss without even thinking of questioning Hashem. Why is Aharon's silence special?

The answer is that there is something Aharon could have said: "Kol d'avid Rachmana l'tav avid" -- the qunitisenntial declaration that all that Hashem does is for the good, whether we understand it or not. Chazal tell us that just as one must say a blessing on the good things in life, one must also say a blessing on the not so good. This is our expression of trust that ultimately, whatever Hashem brings upon us, is for the best.

But why then was Aharon silent?

When we say our "Gam zu l'tovah," it is a response to the perception that something bad has happened. We don't want to question G-d, we don't want to blame G-d, so we say to ourselves that in reality it's all for the best. Our words are an attempt to bridge that gap between our perception of pain and the reality of G-d's goodness. Yet, as sincerly as we may utter those words, there is yet a higher madreiga. That higher madreiga is to not even perceive that which others call "bad" as being bad at all -- to be so filled with the knowledge that G-d alone controls the world and everything He does is for good as to be completely incapable of seeing pain, suffering, the absence of good. When there is no gap between the reality of Hashem's goodness and our perception, there is no need to utter a "gam zu l'tovah" as a reminder of G-d's benevolance.

This is the silence of Aharon haKohen.


  1. With respect, I don't understand this one and it troubles me. To be "completely incapable of seeing pain, suffering, the absence of good" seems like a morally terrible thing, no? It sounds like being indifferent and oblivious to human suffering and tragedy.

    Perhaps you distinguish between how one relates in practice to one's own tzoris, versus caring about others. But I can't imagine a well-adjusted person - never mind a tzaddik! - whose inner emotional reaction to the death of his sons (which is what we are talking about here, for Aharon) is the identical feeling of contentment as if he were witnessing a simcha? That doesn't seem like a higher madreiga, it seems like emotional numbness. Did I misunderstand the dvar torah? I must have! Please correct me.

  2. Anonymous5:40 AM

    ditto Steven-- I thought the same,
    at 1st(thought there must b another
    girsa offline, with added phrase,
    perhaps to be found only in the
    mental notes of Rabbeinu Chaim!);
    but then heard R'Akiva laugh while
    others wept(makkot 24): maybe only
    redemptive,forward-looking emotion is felt at the level described
    (Aharon's love of inclusive, last- ing peace, backwashed his days &
    years); "gam ZU l'tovah"(spoken by R' Akiva's teacher) isolates events; the talmid said rather,
    "ALL Hashem does is for the good"--
    felt only the big picture
    (at least in cinemascope; in
    real life, who knows?); "love
    Hashem with ALL your heart"-- no
    room left for competing, derailing
    emotions--joy of ultimateredemption
    forestalls all past/present piece-
    meal feelings...{a question re-
    mains: was R' Akiva's final Shema
    "an attempt to bridge...G-d's good-
    ness", or expressive of exclusive -
    but not overwhelming -love of G-d?}

  3. >>>With respect, I don't understand this one and it troubles me.

    I agree with you. To me this was icing on the cake. I was troubled by R' Henoch's understanding of the punishment of Nadav v'Avihu, so I figured I would double-up on the difficult to understand musar ideas in one parsha.

  4. Anonymous8:56 AM

    A quick idea on "Gam zu L'tovah" - it's significant that the phrase is not "Gam Zu Tov". Perhaps it can be best understood as a prescriptive statement, a determination to take negatives that occur in our lives and use them as a spur to positive changes/acts?

    That's my approach, anyway.

    The other option for the Lamed is to say that it is only "for the good" in the long term - which implies an awareness and acknowledgement that, viewed in isolation and without the connection to the long-term effects, the event itself is not "good". Otherwise, as I said, the phrase would be "Gam Zu Tov". Given that, the idea that a true tzaddik simply sees everything as "Tov" seems to be questionable,