Parshas Acharei Mos
Nothing is as painful as the loss of a child. The wound it leaves in the
heart of the parent is so deep, so jagged that no amount of time can ever
heal it. And if that child was a shining young star, beautiful, talented
and accomplished, the pain is that much greater to bear. The pain Aaron
felt at the sudden demise of Nadab and Abihu, his two brilliant sons who
perished while bringing unauthorized fire into the sanctuary, must have
With this in mind, let us take a close look at this week’s Torah portion.
The reading begins with a description of the sacrificial service conducted
by Aaron, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur. The Torah prefaces these
instructions with the following words, “And the Lord spoke to Moses after
the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near to Hashem and
died . . . With this shall Aaron come into the sanctuary, with a young
bullock as a sin-offering . . .”
Two questions immediately come to mind. One, why mention the death of
Aaron’s two sons in this context? What was the point of rubbing salt in
his wounds? Furthermore, what is the significance of the seemingly
superfluous words “with this”?
Let us reflect for a moment on loss. Two people die. One is killed on a
subway by a deranged killer on a shooting spree. The other dies of smoke
inhalation while rescuing children trapped in a burning building. Both
families mourn the death of their loved one, but which feels a greater
sense of loss, of emptiness? Clearly, the family of the hero suffer a more
bearable sorrow. At least there was meaning to his death. But what is the
family of the subway victim supposed to feel? How are they deal with the
pointless snuffing out of a vibrant life? How are they to deal with the
sudden senseless void that has appeared in their lives? The perception of
waste is the most difficult aspect of personal loss.
The untimely deaths of Nadab and Abihu, two brilliant young priests with
such promising futures, must have seemed like such a terrible waste. But
our Sages tells us that their intentions were pure, that they acted out of
tremendous although somewhat misguided zeal. The commentators explain that
anything a person does for the good takes on a life and an existence of
its own, even if its effectiveness is not immediately apparent. The act,
the word, the thought still exist, and at some time and place in the
future they can effect important results. Nothing is lost. Nothing is
This is what Hashem was telling Aaron by way of consolation for the death
of his two sons. “With this” shall Aaron enter the sanctuary. With the
fiery zeal of his two sons, which would now be channeled to their proper
destination through the Yom Kippur service performed by their father.
Through his actions, Aaron could tune in to the spiritual energy generated
by his sons and harness it to add momentum to his own service. In this
way, he could bring fulfillment to the lives of his sons and solace to his
own broken heart.
A young dissident was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in a prison
camp. Each day he would push a long pole attached to a gear that turned a
heavy millstone in the next room. Day in and day out for fifteen years,
from dawn until long after dark, the prisoner pushed the pole in an
endless circles of backbreaking labor.
When he was finally released, he asked to see the millstone, and his wish
was granted. The room turned out to be dark and musty, covered with
cobwebs and many inches of dust. The former prisoner took one look and
burst into tears.
“Why are you crying?” asked the puzzled warden.
“All these years, I had thought I was grinding grain, that I was helping
make bread. But now I see that all that terrible hardship was a total
waste. That is simply too much to bear.”
In our own lives, we often expend energy on all sorts of good deeds
without seeing any tangible results. For instance, we put tremendous
efforts into our children, and sometimes we become frustrated, thinking it
is all for naught. But it is not. We can all take comfort in the knowledge
that no good deed or good word is ever wasted, that somewhere, sometime,
in one way or another, our efforts all bear fruit…
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.