A fire came forth from God and consumed [Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu]; thus they died at the instance of the Eternal. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what God meant in saying, ‘Through those near to Me, I show myself holy and gain glory before all the people.’”
And Aaron was silent.
Portion Shemini, Leviticus 10:2-3
What do we make of Aaron’s silence?
What do we make of any silence?
Not all silences are the same.
Silence is our ultimate speechlessness in the presence of awe and beauty and love—and silence is our inability to speak to one another on account of anger, jealousy and spite.
Our silence can be used to hurt or to heal.
To create or to destroy.
Silence can be the very definition of true dignity—or the tragic product of shame and disgrace.
Silence is at the heart of all great art and music—and silence is the censorship that destroys such art.
Silence is God’s highest praise—and silence is the most brutal instrument of tyrants.
Silence is our truest form of worship—and silence is idolatry.
Silence can be our most powerful tool for protesting injustice—and silence, imposed, is the epitome of the injustice that we protest against.
Silence is life.
Silence is death.
Silence is life and death and life and death and life and death.
Silence is life.
Silence is grief.
Silence is healing.
Silence is the sound of the aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the first letter of Anochi, of “I am. . .”
In our silence, we are most alone.
And in our silence, we are most together.
The psalmist taught: “For you, God, silence is praise.” (Psalm 65:1)
So may it be with our silences, this week, as we move from the raucous joy of Purim toward Pesach’s liberation.