After the death of Aaron’s sons…” The Torah tells us that after undergoing this personal tragedy, Aaron responded with silence. He did not choose to blame God, Moses, or himself, or to descend into depression. Rather got up and tried to fulfill his mission in life. Despite his inner pain, he devoted the next 40 years of his life to fulfilling his mission and serving God.
We recently commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, a period of incomprehensible tragedy. Yet this day of commemoration is followed a week later by Israel’s Independence Day. Having been through the greatest tragedy in history, the nation that was written off time and time again rose up and built a future for themselves.
Rabbi Ron Jawary comments: ‘2,500 years ago, God promised “I will bring back the captivity of my people; they will rebuild desolate cities and inhabit them; they will plant vineyards and drink their wine…they will cultivate gardens…and they will never be uprooted from their land again.” If we understand these words not just literally, but figuratively, we can see how God is fulfilling this promise. “I will bring back the captivity” alludes to our redemption from the camps of Europe and the Iron Curtain, and “building the cities” refers to the building of the then desolate Land of Israel. The “vineyards and gardens” allude to the tremendous contributions Israel has made to the modern world in terms of morality, technology, medicine, agriculture… Just as Aaron was able to persevere in spite of the tragedy he experienced, the Jewish nation has managed to rise up in spite of our enemies and fulfill our mission of bringing light and blessing to the world.’
Perhaps the most famous commandment in the Torah appears in this week’s portion: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt comments: ‘When you think about it a bit deeper, however, the question arises: How can you command someone to love? You can command action, but surely you cannot command emotion. Every system of law demands that people act in a certain way. There is not a single one – apart from Torah – which demands that people feel a certain way. You can be an observant Jew: only eat kosher, pray three times a day, and even wear a black hat – but if you don’t feel the emotion of love when you meet another person in the street, you are missing the boat. It’s not enough to simply “not hate.” It’s not enough even to be nice and helpful to the extreme. Ambivalence dressed up in niceties is not what is required of us. We must get ourselves to feel the emotion of love. I once had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was widely considered one of the greatest rabbis of this generation. When I entered the room, I immediately felt a presence. When my turn came, I stretched out my hand to shake his and looked into his eyes. I could not believe what I saw. I felt, as I feel with my own parents, that this was someone who loved me. The warmth that emanated from him was something I have rarely felt in my life. I am confident that he loved me more than do some of my closest friends. He did not know me. He had never met me. And yet he loved me. This is what the Torah requires.
If Rabbi Auerbach had invited me for dinner every day of the week, sent me home laden with gifts, and told me I was welcome in his home whenever I wanted – but I hadn’t felt that he loved me – I would not have walked away with half the feeling of exhilaration as I did. There is no greater gift than love. When people feel loved, they feel self-esteem, they feel lifted, and they feel empowered. When they feel you want to help them because you are obligated to do so, they will be grateful, at best. Loving is giving in the fullest way possible.’
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim