Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


The death of the two sons of Aaron remains one of the great mysteries in Torah narrative. The Midrash and the commentators offer various explanations as to the cause of this tragedy. The sons did not want to marry, they had somehow drunk wine and were inebriated, as well as other faults ascribed to them. And since the work of the priests was so holy and delicate, their deaths occurred. However, this is a difficult path to follow in order to explain - if human beings can ever explain - why bad things happen to good people.


Some of the commentators see this as retribution to Aaron himself for his role in allowing the Golden Calf to be created, and to have caused the Jewish people to be seen in such a hideous fashion immediately after receiving the Torah. The problem with this explanation is, naturally, that we learn that the sins of the father are not to be visited upon the children nor the sins of the children to be visited upon their parents. Because of these difficulties, no matter what type of explanation we wish to explore, it seems to me that the response of Aaron to this tragedy is really the only response that human beings can make. That response was silence.

Aaron does not say anything, and in that silence, there is an acceptance of the fact that the judgment of heaven is always inscrutable to humans. Despite our best efforts and the wisdom of our commentaries, many times in life, the question remains stronger than any potential answer that can be offered. And this itself draws the line between the Creator and the created, between heaven and earth.
We would naturally like to be able to understand everything. The basic hubris of human beings is that we can figure everything out for ourselves. You will notice that this is always a trait that exists within young children, who want to do everything on their own, and who think that they are capable. This human trait has a positive side to it because it allows us to be creative and inventive, to attempt new things, and to gain new insights into life. However, it also has drawbacks. We eventually bump up against the wall of ideas that we do not understand, which, to our mind, is irrational and even unjustified. We are, therefore, left in confusion and disappointment. The only solution is silence and acceptance, and, so to speak, the ability to move on even if we do not understand the events themselves.
I think that this will be the type of response that is necessary when the current coronavirus pandemic finally departs. There will be many who will assign reasons and causes for its occurrence. However, whatever reasons and whatever ideas are assigned, will eventually be found wanting on the scale of human judgment and rational understanding. We will have to accept it for what it is and attempt to move on. Just as Aaron did, we will move forward and accept the judgment of heaven and renew ourselves in the service of God and of Israel. We must look forward to better times and to productive achievements. I hope that this will occur quickly, peacefully, and with goodness. In any event, let us pray for better times and the ability to be silent when noisy explanations do not really help.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.