The great tragedy that occurred to Aharon HaKohen on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan educates us profoundly how to deal with this difficult phenomenon known as death.
Aharon’s response is silence, “Vayidom Aharon” – “and Aharon was silent” . There is the silence of shock. The individual cannot digest the event that has transpired and refuses to believe that it occurred. By Aharon the meaning is different. According to the explanation of the Rashbam, Vayidon Aharan M’aveiluloto , that Aharon ceased his mourning and he neither cried nor lamented. His silence was one of acceptance and closure.
In general, Halacha commands us to mourn. However, here it was demanded of Aharon to continue the service in the Mishkan in spite of the deep sense of grief. Mishael and Eltzaphan needed to carry the bodies of the deceased outside to enable the Avodato continue. Elazar and Itamar were commanded to continue their holy work and to refrain from growing their hair or tearing their clothes. The assignment of the mourning was transferred to the nation as a whole and removed from the priestly family. They only refrained from eating the goat of the sin offering due to their personal loss.
There is a profound depth to these issues in regards to a mourner. A mourner, whose “world” has been destroyed, feels as though there is nothing in his life but his grief. The whole world is “dead”, so to speak, with the departed, and the gusto of life is gone.
This is not the approach of the Torah! Granted, the deceased is no longer among the living, but life itself goes on. The world continues to function, and the responsibility for its continuity and rectification remains with the living. It is of the essence to mourn! It is a positive commandment of the Torah and one who does not grieve is nothing less than cruel!
Nonetheless, the eyes of all remains focused on the living and not the dead, to the future and not to the past. From mourning for the dead one needs to draw inspiration for action in life. It must also catalyze the awesome sense of responsibility to continue his or her life mission since now there is no one else to accomplish it.
The intense mourning for the sons of Aharon, who was the “chatan” of the dedication of the Mishkan, could have “soured” the joy of the Omnipresent and the moment. Therefore, a great effort was made that the individual grief should not impinge on the communal celebration.
In the context of this special Hora’at Sha’a – temporary ruling, Aharon and his remaining sons were commanded to refrain from growing their hair or tearing their clothes. Even though they were Onenim, and, as such sacrifices were prohibited to them, they were commanded to eat the meal and peace offerings that were offered on that day.
This is also the halachic prescription if someone buries his deceased before a major holiday that the holiday eliminates the shiva. However, if the burial takes place during the holiday, the shiva is postponed till after the holiday. The reason for this is that the three major holidays are times of joy and happiness for the entire Jewish people. The value of this holiday that celebrates the completeness the nation reaches at this time of the year is greater than any individual mourning.
May the Almighty remove from us any harsh decrees and may we not hear of any more tragedy in our midst. May we also rejoice in the total celebration of the special days which are coming, and may the Almighty rejoice as well.