While Standing (Six Feet Apart) on One Leg
April 13, 2020
Thousands of Americans are dying each day from COVID-19.
No matter how upbeat any politician is, things aren’t getting better anytime soon.
We are stunned into silence and each of us is going to pick up the pieces in our own way.
Now I know how Aaron felt when he saw his two sons, Nadav and Abihu, lying dead before him after offering a ‘strange fire’ as described in this week’s Torah portion.
Here is the text:
Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the LORD alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. 2And fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the LORD. 3Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD meant when He said:
Through those near to Me I show Myself holy,
And gain glory before all the people.”
And Aaron was silent. (Lev 10:1-3)
It is among the strangest passages of the Torah. The commentators suggest everything from a theory that Nadav and Abihu were drunk, although there is no evidence of that. Others suggested that they did something that they were not supposed to at a time and place they were not supposed to do it. There are many other explanations. But sometimes we have to step back and, like Aaron, remain silent for any explanation seems to me to be just a way of trying to explain something away.
Aaron didin’t protest or trying to figure out why this happened. His silence reflects our silence as we read this story and can’t explain it. All he can do is move on the best he can without his sons.
Today, in the midst of this unparalleled crisis is modern history, we are all Aaron. Across this vast land, thousands of people are mourning their dead. In almost every case of COVID, they could not be with those they love and thousands died alone and will continue to do so. Some take to Twitter and express their anger. But more often, I am reading simple, yet profound grief. They have been stunned into silence. Every one of the knows only one thing – as Aaron did – that their mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, neighbor, friend, guy down the street, is dead. They could not care less about the economy restarting. They don’t care if the mitigation is ‘working.’ And, to add to their pain, they are being told that either they died from something else, they were on ‘their last legs,’ that their deaths were a hoax, that their cell-phones caused their deaths, or any number of dozens of other useless efforts to diminish or explain away their deaths.
It is, quite frankly, dispiriting to see how insensitive and boorish so many people are. What happened to just bowing our heads low and empathizing with those who are suffering? I take my cue from Aaron’s nephews who are described in the next couple of lines:
“Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come forward and carry your kinsmen away from the front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5They came forward and carried them out of the camp by their tunics, as Moses had ordered.”
Mishael and Elizaphan simply come forward and bury the dead. They don’t say anything. They don’t blame the victims. They don’t talk it away. And in their silence is our lesson for today. The time has long come and go for us to rediscover our humanity and to dig deeply in the wells of compassion and understanding. There is no vast conspiracy. 5G phones don’t cause COVID. The Chinese didn’t create a virus. And yelling and screaming on TV every day about how wonderful everything is a waste of time. In space, it is said, no one can hear you scream. There is a space between the people who try to proclaim loudly about how the ending of the crisis is near and how lucky we are to have only 25,000 people and how it isn’t ‘so bad’ and between the people who have suffered in ways that could never be fathomed even a month ago.
We are lucky if we have not been affected by the virus. But let us not celebrate and blame the innocent. Often, righteousness comes from keeping silent. Time to keep silent.