After the death of Aaron’s sons, God instructs Aaron on various rituals, including the atonement ritual on behalf of the people. There are three important lessons about grief in this juxtaposition.
1. You must return to the world. The Seudat Ha’avarah, the meal of passage that follows shiva, is intended to begin the reclamation of the mourner. In the words of the 23rd Psalm, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not stay there.
2. Doing something for others can help you both forget your own trouble and remember that grief is universal. Aaron was instructed on atonement for all, knowing that sin and suffering were not his alone, despite the depth of his anguish.
3. God does not stop speaking because our lives become dark. Through Moses, God instructs Aaron, both reminding him of the family that remains and of the Divine voice that still believes Aaron has a mission in this world. A sense of purpose and a sense of spirit can outlive loss.
Some losses are impossible to imagine for anyone who has not endured a similar tragedy. But we need not understand to help. Gently the mourner is coaxed back into life with purpose and a sense of God’s continuing presence in our beautiful but broken world.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).