DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Joshua S. Feingold
Put yourself in Aaron's shoes. You have just been informed that two of your precious sons have died. Imagine the trauma of losing two beloved children in one day, and then amplify this grief with the knowledge that at the time of their death they were trying to serve Hashem.
Put yourself in Aaron's shoes. You have just been informed that two of your precious sons have died. Imagine the trauma of losing two beloved children in one day, and then amplify this grief with the knowledge that at the time of their death they were trying to serve Hashem. The Mishkan (Tabernacle) had just been erected, and they were bringing the ketoret (incense) for the first time in what would have been long careers of service to Hashem. Think about the pain and suffering that Aaron must have felt.
Most people would question Hashem's justice. They would ask, "Why did they die? They were trying to do good! They were trying their best to serve You!" This essentially would be asking the most fundamental question ever posed in history: Why do bad things happen to good people? In light of this, Aaron's reaction to the horrible news is enigmatic. The Torah relates that "Aaron was silent" (Leviticus 10:3) - he did not respond. Apparently, Aaron did not question Hashem's actions; rather he remained quiet and accepted his sons' death as the will of G-d.
We find a similar phenomenon in Aaron's behavior upon considering the passage in the Torah where Hashem initially sends Moses and Aaron to request from Pharaoh that the Jewish people be freed from slavery. Instead of releasing the slaves, Pharaoh responds by increasing their workload. Moses could not comprehend how Hashem could have commanded them to ask for freedom, knowing that nothing good would come from it. Moses therefore asks Hashem, "Why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me?" (Exodus 5:22). In essence, Moses was also asking the question of why bad things happen to good people. It is interesting to note that although Aaron was also present when Pharaoh increased the burden, and even though Aaron was mentioned in the previous verse, the Torah only reports that Moses asked this basic question. The Torah does not mention whether Aaron also asked Hashem why He "did evil to this people". Did Aaron not also have the same question? From the reaction he has to his sons' deaths, it would seem that although the question may have bothered Aaron, he did not ask. What gave Aaron the strength not to question Hashem when things turned sour?
By examining Aaron's childhood, perhaps we can discern how he learned this important lesson. Aaron grew up in Egypt during a period when every Jewish newborn baby boy was drowned in the Nile. Imagine his thoughts when he found out that his mother had given birth to his brother Moses. Young Aaron must have wondered why Hashem would be so cruel as to bring a child into the world merely to be cast into the river. However, he soon learned that Moses was saved from death by Pharaoh's daughter, and destined to become the redeemer of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. Through experience, Aaron learned that everything that Hashem does has a purpose. He discovered that bad things do not happen to good people. Rather, with the narrow outlook on the world which humans intrinsically possess, we cannot fathom the real good that surrounds us.
So what about us? It is very difficult for a person of non-biblical proportions to realize that Hashem does only good. The Zoroastrians of the second Temple period could not comprehend that something which appears bad could really be good. Instead, they claimed that there must be two separate entities running the world, both a good force and a separate evil force. How can we come to the profound recognition that everything, even what appears to be bad, is really good?
Be a student of Aaron. Look back on your life and consider some of the things which appeared to be bad at the time, and then developed into something good. Of course, because of our narrow outlook on life, we will be unable to answer all of our questions. Many of us will still feel like Rabbi Yanni who said, "We cannot grasp neither the tranquillity of the evildoers nor the suffering of the righteous" (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:19). However, eventually we will receive answers to all of our questions. As we say three times a day in the last line of the Aleinu prayer, the prophet Zachariah foretold that there will come a time when ". . .His name will be one." The prophet meant that when the Mashiach (Messiah) comes we will realize that everything, both the good and the bad, was really determined by the one caring G-d and was in fact all for the best.
Joshua S. Feingold, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a student at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland.
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