“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Extreme tragedy often accompanies extreme glory. On the very day when God accepted the hard work performed by the Israelites in building the Tabernacle and sanctifying the priesthood, two of Aaron’s sons die (Leviticus 9:1-2).
Everything was in place. The Children of Israel had performed beautifully. They were finished with the building of the Tabernacle and the priesthood was sanctified. Everything was ready for the great moment. Suddenly, fire came from heaven to light the wood on the altar and consume the offerings of the Children of Israel. God was pleased. Whereas he had been refused entrance before (Exodus 40:35), Now, the offering accepted, Moses could come near His God again (Leviticus 9). Things have not changed very much. We are still only allowed in the Divine Presence by the virtue of an innocent victim
No sooner was the ecstasy of joy settled that Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, decide to make an offering of ‘esh zarah/foreign fire’ to the Lord. As suddenly as before, the Lord’s fire also comes out from heaven but this time to devour the two young men. The Torah not giving us many details about the event, speculations by commentators abound as to God’s seeming irrational reaction. What I would like to bring out today is Aaron’s reaction after Moses’ attempt at comforting him, ‘Aaron kept silent (Leviticus 10:3). Maybe that is the reason why the Torah Itself remains silent. Aaron was silent.
Aaron suffers this tragedy in the middle of a service when he is not allowed to mourn nor get out of ‘character’. Whereas he later acknowledges his grief and mourning heart (Leviticus 10:19), Aaron does not permit himself to blot God’s reputation and Name by expressing himself during the service. His two boys die, but he remains silent.
Jewish texts have commented on this with the statement, ‘by your silence you shall live’. The idea is related to Aaron’s lofty position of honor as the High-Priest of the people. As spiritual leaders, when inexplicable tragedy strikes, when what seems unreasonable and irrational happens to us, we are not forbidden to mourn or be sad, but we may we not publicize it through words of personal anger and doubt about God’s wisdom.
The Master agreed to that in that He taught His disciples, by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:37). He Himself, in the image of the innocent daily lambs was offered on the altar of justice. He was subject to a cruel and inhumane death for crimes He did not commit and yet, he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).
May we also learn from Aaron’s godly attitude and though our hearts may be bleeding, may we also learn to have control over our mouths when inexplicable tragedies strikes. Hashem knows our hearts, but our mouths need not to seal our burdens on those around us who may be carrying a heavy burden of their own. Ours may the one to make them stumble and fall.