This week’s Torah portion, Achrei Mot, begins with a reference to the passing of Aaron’s sons. Some commentators believe that the laws that follow in the parsha governing where, when, and how the priests present themselves to God explain what happened to Nadav and Avihu. This interpretation, however, focuses on only one part of the parsha’s name, Mot that translates as “death.” The other part, Achrei, which means “after,” also merits our attention.
After the unexpected loss of his sons, the Torah tells us that “Aaron was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3) His reaction can be understood as shock, pain, and heartbreak. Any human being who has unfortunately suffered a loss sadly knows these range of emotions all too well. The various laws about the funeral, burial, shiva, and kaddish can be draining and disorienting.
As a mourner is handling and adjusting to all these responsibilities, the most powerful response is chesed, acts of loving-kindness. Chesed takes many forms: a meal, a visit, a phone call, a hug, a handshake, a nod, and even a text. And sometimes it can even be silence, when we just listen because that is what the mourner needs from us. I believe that the Torah tells us about Aaron’s silence to teach us that the soundtrack of caring requires no words. Our presence speaks volumes.
The title of this Torah portion invites us to consider not just what happens for a mourner after a loss, but what we can do as a community to help them heal. Equally important, after the loss healing can begin.