One of the reasons for William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ being lauded till this day as one of his finest plays is due to its deep and compact themes, primarily surrounding grief and mourning.
At the opening of the play we are introduced to Hamlet as an aloof and melancholy prince who is unable to overcome the sudden death of his father. As his uncle and antagonist Claudius tells him: ” Commendable in your nature Hamlet to give these mourning duties to your father; but ’tis unmanly grief.” We are first drawn to Hamlet because unlike the other characters he displays very human and realistic emotions and feelings in his time of grief.
Despite Shakespeare- to put it lightly- not being the biggest fan of the Jewish people, this innate understanding of the importance of grief and the emphasis of correctly coping with bereavement is a uniquely Jewish concept which is illustrated several times in this week’s double Parshiot of Achrei Mot-Kedoshim.
In order to fully understand this week’s Parshiot we must first contextualize the situation. Achrei Mot- literally means “after the death” referring to the sudden passing of the two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, due to their bringing of untimely sacrifices before G-d. Moses is the one to eventually inform his brother about their tragic deaths in which the Torah writes that in response “Aaron remained silent.”
When dealing with sudden or immense calamity it can often be a wholly normal and human response to react with shock or silence.
However is that the meaning of Aaron’s silence? Was the Torah merely describing the High Priest falling into a comatose state of shock?
Aaron no doubt believed in providence, yet how was he to respond to such a tragedy and remain a believer? Aaron’s answer was silence. His silence was his answer to such a situation, in dealing with grief, divine rationalization and theories can be difficult in understanding. Aaron chose to respond with an acceptance of the situation and an internal strengthening of his belief in providence.
Nevertheless, this is only the first step to Aaron’s consolation and solace. In the continuation of this week’s Parshiot G-d speaks directly to Aaron and lists additional duties that he and the other priests should perform.
This signifies the two distinct stages in Aaron’s consolation. First the silence, remembrance and introspection followed by eventual deeds and action in moving forward and coping with loss whilst remembering the departed.
This week we experienced both Anzac Day and Yom HaZikaron. Even though this year both commemoration days were performed online, both days are associated with holding a moment of silence in memory of the fallen.
This is a highly commendable and an important tradition which we should always continue, the Parshiot and commemorative days of this week also emphasizes the importance of action following silence.
When recalling Anzac Day it should spur us into action to avoid conflict at all costs. When remembering those of Yom HaZikron it should strengthen us in aiding all those that are serving to defend free societies against terror.
To quote Shakespeare again, such a silence should urge us in “taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end to them.”