Drash on Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
This Shabbat we read the double portion of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Every year, these Torah readings fall during the time of memorials: Yom Hashoah, the remembrance of the Holocaust and Yom Hazikaron, the remembrance of those who died protecting the land of Israel and in acts of terror. And this year, we read these portions on the weekend we, in Australia commemorate ANZAC Day. Acharei Mot begins with the phrase, “after the deaths of Aaron’s sons,” and then it continues to describe the rituals of atonement and the rules for living in and creating, a holy community. If the passages are describing, in the main, the rules for atonement and community, why mention the death of Aaron’s sons? There have been a couple of Torah portions between the occurrence of the deaths and these rituals, so why link them with the mention of Aaron’s sons’ deaths?
After trauma and suffering, pain and loss, it is sometimes difficult to move forward, to continue with life. We can become paralysed with grief, laden with the burden of the memories and the tragedy of our loss. This portion highlights that with Aaron’s loss of his two sons. When they die, the Torah tells us Aaron was silent, he had no words, he could not put into language the depths of his sorrow, there was nothing he could say. He separates himself from community and spends time alone. But now the Torah tells him: “turn back to life, it is time. Now you must be enfolded back into the arms of your community, you no longer walk alone. The rituals and structure of communal life will bring shelter, comfort and strength. You cannot remain in that place of intense sorrow. Now is the time to allow the community to be with you, to support and love you and to help you on your journey back to the world.”
After the Shoah, after the horrific losses of loved ones in acts of violence, war, terror, tragedy, there are often no words; there is silence, shock, and pain. The weight of the loss can seem insurmountable. But then we, like Aaron, are called upon to slowly return to life, to allow community to be there with us and for us. There can be strength and comfort in community, in knowing others have walked a similar path, that they too have struggled. To understand that from the depths of that place, a hand will reach down to pull us back to our home. For Aaron in our parasha, as well as others who have suffered trauma or loss, there is a need to be together in community, to be surrounded by others who care, who are with us in our pain and in our struggle as well as our happiness and times of blessing.
At the end of the funeral service we say to the mourners: “now go forth to life.” We acknowledge that it is a life changed forever by our loss, our struggle, but healing and comfort can come from connection with others, the structure of rituals, communal life and being part of something greater than ourselves. I hope that we can all find the strength of community with us, the beauty of connection with others and we can be there for one another always.