the waves of grief
"Vayidom Aharon." And Aaron was silent. (Lev 10:3)
These are perhaps some of the most profound words in all of Torah.
These are two words that follow the moment when Aaron learns of the death of his two sons, Nadav and Avihu.
Some understand this as the silence of shock. Others say it is the silence of acceptance. But for me it is all of that and more. It is the silence which results when the range and depth of one's emotions are too overwhelming to express in words. Which is why Jewish tradition offers a proscriptive response upon hearing that someone has died - Baruch Dayan HaEmet - Blessed is the Source of Truth and Justice.
In Jewish tradition, there is a recognition that grief is neither linear nor singular. There is a period of time immediately following someone's death, referred to as aninut. In aninut, time is suspended. One does not even yet recite kaddish. We are not responsible for anything but attending to our grief and honoring our dead. That is personally where I have been these past few days.
And then this morning I saw the list of funerals that have been scheduled throughout this week for the victims of the shootings in Pittsburgh and Kentucky. And it hit me all over again. The process of preparing a body for burial and the funeral itself shift the grieving from something very personal to a communal responsibility. In this moment, once again potentially short on words, we are instructed to offer each other words of comfort. HaMakom Yenachem Etchem - May the Place comfort you. In precisely the moment when we feel most unmoored, these words anchor us in a kind of divinity that is wherever you are.
Time is no longer suspended as we begin counting the 7 days of shiva, and then 30 days of shloshim and the 11 months of kaddish and the annual yahrzeits. Grief textures time. And time transforms our grief.
This week, each in our own time and in our own ways, I imagine we are moving through stages of grief and shock. It has been a devastating week and we must work extra hard to stay connected to love, to each other, and to hope.
I took the advice of this poem written early this morning by Hila Ratzabi, How to Pray While the World Burns:
Find a patch of grass, sand, dirt.
Sit, kneel, place a hand or just
A finger to the soft earth.
Feel it pulse back...
The earth hears your prayer.
There is nowhere for God to hide.
Get down on your knees and let
This precious earth soften for the weight of you."
I sat and ate lunch under a big red oak tree in Cedar Park and thought to myself, it is on fire; it could have been the burning bush. It was so alive in its transformation. I inhaled its life force and exhaled my grief into the big, firm earth beneath me. And the cool crisp air cleansed my broken, fearful heart, for a moment. And I returned to my old friend Lucille Clifton and the Lesson of the Falling Leaves:
"the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves"
In a world that feels bereft of grace, go sit by some falling leaves.
In a world overflowing with violence, be extra loving.
Please take gentle care of yourselves. Please be quick to forgive and slow to anger, with yourself and your loved ones. And please consider doing one extra thing this week to get out the vote.
If anyone would like some individual pastoral support this week, please be in touch with our Rabbinic Intern, Eli, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those looking to sending money and resources, here are some places I recommend:
And please, come sing and cry and be in community this Shabbat, November 2-3. We have services on Friday at 6:30pm and Saturday at 10am. We will not let them take Shabbat from us. We will out live them.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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