And Aaron Was Silent! How Could He?

There are things hidden from us, beyond us, for which mankind has no answer. And so we trust in God

Photo: Flash90

Leviticus chapter 10 contains some tough events. It actually begins earlier in chapter 9 with the inauguration of the altar and the dedication of the Tabernacle. For the first time Israel is actually offering sacrifices according to the instructions Moses received.

There is finally a place devoted to the sacred transaction between God and His people. The preparations for the Tabernacle have finally been completed. Now man can connect with God. The laws regarding how to offer sacrifices and perform the set-apart service are very meticulous. Aaron and his priestly sons seem to have learned their role and the laws, just as they were commanded. And how do we know that? God gives a stamp of approval at the end of the process when the glory of the LORD is revealed and the offering is accepted.

And seemingly the process ends and we can utter sigh of relief.

But then there is a twist in the story. Something is not according to the original plan. Two of the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, of their own accord add more incense and offer another sacrifice. They are actually adding another ritual, an extraneous act done not according to the protocol they were given.

“And they offered before the LORD a strange fire, which He commanded them not. And fire came out from before LORD, and devoured them, and they died before LORD.”

They sacrifice “strange fire.” And God does not accept that. To put it mildly. For after they sacrifice a strange, foreign fire – another fire goes forth and consumes them, and they both die.

It’s not clear. What exactly happened there? Why did they decide to make another sacrifice? Why is the additional sacrifice called “strange fire”?

And what’s least clear is why their sentence is so severe. The death penalty!?

There are many interpretation to this difficult story. Some say that there was the sin of arrogance here, and that Aaron’s sons felt they knew something that others did not, so they added more fire. Some say that more and more of a good thing is not always good; that in this case adding more was subtracting, was a sin. And there are still other interpretations beyond these.

But I want to talk specifically about the reaction of Aaron, the father of Nadav and Avihu. Aaron as the first high priest, and is just finishing this ceremony, this sacred transaction. His entire being is still in the ecstasy of the connection between himself and God. The connection between the people and God.

One moment he experiences grandeur, he experiences God.

And the next moment two of his sons are dead!

It’s difficult for us as readers to fully understanding what is happening here. We expect shouts of horror and cries of grief, and questions. We expect commotion and panic. Because that’s how the human brain works. But what is happening on the ground is completely different from what we expect.

And Moses said unto Aaron, “This is the thing which the LORD hath said, saying, ‘I will sanctify myself in the midst of those near me, and I will be honored before all the people.'”

And afterward we read: “And Aaron was silent.”

Aaron doesn’t move. Doesn’t respond. Doesn’t utter a word. Doesn’t ask for an explanation and does not cry.

Aaron is silent!!!

He realizes no explanation given could satisfy him. Nothing they say to him now will bring back his sons. Nothing could make him fathom what his eyes just saw together with the eyes of the nation. Aaron realizes that there are things beyond us, hidden things.

He understands that there are things for which there is no answer.

There are tragedies in the world. There are national and personal tragedies. There are cases that break our hearts, and there is no answer, no satisfying explanation. Aaron in his grief and great sorrow realizes that he cannot ask questions now. Because the mind cannot comprehend what just happened. The event that took place is beyond human understanding. And so Aaron is silent.

And as human beings, how hard it is for us to accept that there isn’t always an answer.

And how hard we try to find words of encouragement in times of sorrow, words of comfort. And how hard we try at all costs to break the silence!

However, to our great sorrow, there are events in life that no words will heal. Pains that no words will relieve. Sometimes the cure, if there is one, will only come after going through the pain. This is so very difficult. I know. It leaves us stunned, wondering, questioning, resisting, wounded. Some things are hidden from us.

As it says in a popular Israeli song:

Some things are hidden
We won’t understand, we cannot know
And we will do some things
For no apparent reason.

Not every thing must be
Must be explored and questioned
Sometimes it’s OK
Not to know it all…

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