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 We are all aware that personal disappointments and tragedies are unavoidable events in the life span of human beings. No one departs from this world unscathed by difficulties. In the Torah reading of this week we are informed of the death of the two elder sons of Aaron. The Torah ascribes their deaths to the fact that they offered up a strange fire on the altar in the process of burning the holy incense.

The commentators to the Torah over the ages have searched for an understanding of what their sin was and how the punishment fit the crime. It would be no exaggeration to state that in spite of these valiant scholarly efforts, the entire incident is still shrouded in mystery and beyond ordinary rational understanding.
Because of this, the Torah itself, almost cryptically, accepts Aaron’s reaction of silence as being a correct and appropriate reaction to this tragedy. One would therefore be led to believe that this tragic moment in the life of Aaron and his family marked the end of his public career and his service to the Jewish people. It would apparently be understandable to many if Aaron had simply retired and left the priesthood for others to service and administer. I think that this is part of the message why the Torah emphasizes that all of this took place on the eighth day. The eighth day is always representative of continuity in Jewish life. It is the day of circumcision and it is the day when the seven-day period of mourning is over. The eighth day looks to the future and is always seen as a day of recovery and rejuvenation.
The history of the Jewish people, just as is true in the lives of individuals, has many instances of tragedy and disappointment. Yet the overall impression that Jewish history should leave with those who study it, is the great resilience that our story represents. Our story is one of the eighth day and not merely of the seven days of mourning and sadness.
Aaron and his descendants are remembered and revered until today for their continual blessings and service to the Jewish people, both in Temple times and thereafter. Rising from his personal tragedy, Aaron becomes the most beloved of Jewish leaders and the symbol of harmony, tolerance and true piety for all time.
The rabbis of the Mishnah encouraged us all to become students and disciples of Aaron and to emulate his ways and attitudes. We are to appreciate his silence in reaction to tragedy and to be inspired by his resilience and continuity in public service in spite of his personal loss and grief. This is a lesson that is true for us not only on a personal scale but on a national one as well.
The last century has been a tragic one for the Jewish people. But it has proven to be a time of great resilience and untold accomplishment. We should always remember that no matter what our situation may be today we will always attempt to live and be successful on the eighth day.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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