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Praise in the Face of Tragedy

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Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. - Leviticus 9:23

The Torah portion for this week is Shemini, which means "eighth," from Leviticus 9:1-11:47, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17.

In a verse that might otherwise be overlooked, we are told that Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting and when they came out, they blessed the people. The question is: what went on in the tent of meeting?

The most widely studied Jewish commentator, Rashi, from 11th century France, explained that in the tent of meeting Moses taught Aaron "concerning the incense offering." However, the Jewish sages aren't at all satisfied with this answer. Why hadn't Moses taught Aaron the laws of the incense offering at the same time he explained all the other sacrificial rituals?

According to the sages, while in the tent of meeting Moses was preparing Aaron for the great tragedy that was about to occur when his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were killed instantly for bringing incense at a time when they were not called to do so. This is what Rashi meant when he said that Moses was teaching Aaron "concerning the incense offering" - Moses was teaching Aaron what he would need to know in order to face the tragedy with faith and fortitude.

In the tent of meeting Moses taught Aaron to praise God even when crushed by sorrow. Moses taught Aaron that we serve God in good times and in bad. He taught Aaron that the same God who gives is the God who also takes away. The greatest way to glorify Him is to praise Him even when we are hurting.

This is what gave Aaron the ability to react to the death of his two sons, just a few verses later, with such devotion to God. We stand back amazed at such grace and faith, but I want everyone to know that people like Aaron still exist today. Israel is no stranger to tragedy, and sadly, in the last year alone there have been too many bereaved parents. And yet, listen to what some of them have had to say. Most recently, after losing seven of his children in a tragic house fire, Gabriel Sassoon said in his eulogy, "God Almighty took seven roses. He took my children and my future grandchildren, maybe 70 or 80 of them, their smiles. To you, my God, I give my all. My soul, my all."

And Adva Biton, mother of four-year-old Adele who recently succumbed to her injuries caused by a terrorist attack, still praised God at the funeral: "The Creator of the Universe gave me a great gift that graced the people of Israel . . . Now the Master of the Universe took you back to Him."

What strength! What faith! I want to encourage us all to stand prepared to face whatever God sends our way with dignity, grace, faith, and love. If these amazing people can still praise God amidst such pain, surely we can praise God despite the comparatively small inconveniences that we face throughout our day.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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