Parshas Shmini - Whispers

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 04/08/21

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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On the joyous day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, tragedy strikes. Nadav and Avihu bring an unauthorized offering and are consumed by fire. 

One can only imagine the overwhelming grief their illustrious father, Aharon must have experienced. Yet, the Torah pithily states, וידֹם אהרן — and Aharon was silent. No more, no less. 

Was he silent because he was simply ‘stunned’? Or perhaps it was a silence of acceptance of his fate?  

There are many verbs that connote silence: חרש, שתק, חשה, yet the Torah used specifically the root דמם.  

Some suggest it alludes to the lowest in the four strata of life: דומם — mineral, צומח — vegetable, חי — animal, מדבר — [speaking] human.  

All other life forms when undergoing trauma, display a change in its form and whither, except mineral which remains static. Aharon did not even flinch, remaining steadfast in his absolute faithful acceptance of this fate, with even his physical and emotional demeanor never betraying that deep belief. 

There is one version of the Targum that translates וידם not as ושתיק — and he was silent, but as ושבח — and he praised.  

In truth the word שבח does not necessarily imply praise. Often it is used in the context of displaying calmness as in the verse in Tehillim: משביח שאון ימים (סה ח) — Who calms the roar of the seas. 

That would indicate that Aharon did not simply remain stone-faced, but more significantly conveyed a positive aura of calm. 

Where is this indicated in this simple word וידם which intimates merely a stony silence? 

The Sifrei poses a question. One verse tells us the Torah was given with ‘thunder and lightning’, yet when G-d spoke to Eliyahu in a קול דממה דקה — still small sound. Which one is it? 

The Sifrei gives a cryptic response: “when G-d speaks everyone is silent, as it says, דומו — Be silent, you island dwellers; the merchants of Zidon, the seafarers replenished you (ישעיהו כג ב), and it says, וידם — and Aharon was silent.” (ספרי נשא כח) 

Clearly the Sifrei does not need to bring proof that דממה means silence, as its query is predicated on the intimation of silence in that usage. So how are these two verses relevant to the notion that when ‘G-d speaks everyone is silent’ when there were not any words ever spoken by G-d to cause Aharon’s silence?  

In life there are times when events take a sudden turn, and we are stunned into speechless silence quietly trying to make sense out of what has transpired. We should never overreact, but choose to absorb the message, transforming it into a purposeful and meaningful reaction.  

The context of the first verse quoted is the destruction of Tzur, a mighty commercial hub that supplied riches and merchandise to the surrounding lands and islands, and the bewildered, but contemplative island dwellers, who silently distill the consequences of Tzur’s downfall. 

It is a process that first stuns but can only be understood if we do not let our emotions govern our response and concludes with a calmed acceptance of fate. 

That is precisely the lesson of Aharon.  

Aharon transformed shock into mindful contemplation and eventually to a calm and enthused expression of faith. 

Perhaps that is the essence of the ‘still small sound’ — the subtle message from G-d which enthuses our positive response, because when we hear that ‘whisper’ we understand it is beckoning us to be close, even when to all appearances we might seem to be facing a catastrophe. 

A recent divorcee without children, described her painful loneliness last Pesach when the circumstances of Covid forced to isolate and celebrate the seder alone. Despite her many anxieties and feelings of ‘inadequacy fused with panic of failure’, she was determined to ‘Just Do It!’, in her own words. 

Pushing herself to dress up, set a beautiful table, prepare her Haggadah with notes, she also set up an extra setting opposite her ‘to represent people alone in need of comfort and connection’. 

Going through all the steps, she felt ‘like lava bursting from a volcano, lofty thoughts and grand feelings enveloped’ her. She was ‘at peace with herself, her past, the world, and prayed that this rare togetherness would extend into her post-Pesach life. 

She writes. I was grateful for my solo seder, my opportunity to connect with Hashem at my pace, with my impediments. Regardless of our riches, marital status, childlessness or more, I realized He loves all Jews and in return, we must serve him b’simchah.  

A Jew grounded in Hashem is never alone... Alone is a state of mind, not only a state of being unaccompanied. 

But to be alone with Hashem, to surrender to His will, to embrace His dominion over my life and the universe, is an encounter of the highest order. (Inyan — HaModia Weekly Magazine, Leah Levison, The Watershed Moment, March 24, 2021//Parshas Tzav/Pesach) 

There is always a ‘still small sound’ waiting to be heard. We simply must put our ear to hear its music.  

If only, in the image of Aharon, we would pay attention to its message, we would be equipped to face any challenge with calm and purpose. 

The writer concludes appropriately from the sweet song of Shir Hashirim: 

“I thought I would be forever alone but behold! He is standing behind our wall, observing through the windows, peering through the lattices” (2:9) 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן