The climax of the mishkan process, the final day of its inauguration, tales place in our sedra. During that day, Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon, bring a ketores korban and are killed by a fire sent from HaShem. These were not just normal sons, but were to be the future leaders of Bnei Yisrael, and Moshe concedes that they were holier than Moshe and Aharon (10;3 with Rashi). We are not going to discuss what exactly their sin was [see tosfos yoma 53a ‘shehoru,’ and Rashi Vayikra 10;2 & 16;1.] What we shall discuss, however, is Aharon’s reaction to this tragedy. To understand this reaction, let’s first note that this tragedy could not have happened to greater people or closer relatives of Aharon, or on a more auspicious day for him - as Kohen Gadol and thus ‘head worker’ in the mishkan , the inauguration of the mishkan was especially central and joyous for Aharon.

What was his reaction to the happiest day being turned to sadness? Pasuk 3 says it in two words - ‘and Aharon was silent.’ On first glance, one assumes that this means that Aharon was shocked and lost for words. But this is inaccurate, for Rashi comments that Aharon was rewarded for this silence; it must have been a great achievement as opposed to merely being stunned. In fact, Elazar and Itamar [the other two sons of Aharon] and Moshe were also silent and received a reward for it (Rashi 11;2

), but the reward for Aharon was greatest, for he received two parts of the Torah to be conveyed through him, whilst the reward for Elazar, Itamar, and Moshe involved only one part. Thus, we shall focus primarily on Aharon’s silence. What was Aharon’s silence? And what is the strength of silence in general? There are two main points to/greatnesses of silence that we shall discuss and ultimately attribute back to Aharon. It is important to qualify that we are not talking exclusively about silence from forbidden speech; the benefits of this go without saying (no pun intended).

Rather, we are talking about silence from even permitted forms of speech. The first greatness of silence rests in its self-control factor; one who refrains from speaking exhibit’s a strength of self-control. This does not mean that one should constantly remain in a state of silence; the Chofetz Chaim stressed the importance of using the gift of speech and not constantly holding back from it to the extent that one does not speak at all. Nevertheless, keeping silent every now and again does show a degree of self-control. The idea of self-control is a central one, and is often overlooked nowadays; it does not take much to see that many problems in the modern world are caused by a lack of strong self-control. We say each morning that ‘the superiority of man over an animal is nothing (ayin).’ This has been interpreted to mean that ‘the superiority of man over an animal is the ability to say no.’ In other words, animals have no choice but to act on their instincts; if they are hungry, they must eat something, whilst man is given the ability to control his instincts and rise above them, as opposed to letting them control him. In fact, one old yeshiva’s main stress was the idea of self-control; there was a learning session from 3:00am until 3:05am, at which everyone had to be present and nobody could continue learning after 3:05am just so the boys could exhibit self control over their sleep. The other, more positive, outgrow of this facet of silence is noted by the Vilna Gaon. He explains that the world rests, as it were, on those who are silent in a time of argument. When one is in the middle of an emotion-filled and personal quarrel and they manage to keep silent in the face of an insult or accusation, they achieve unparalleled greatness. This is also an aspect of the words of Reb Shimon (avos 1;17) ‘I have not found anything as good for the body as silence;’ self-control is good for the physical body apart from its spiritual quality, for it allows one to function above and beyond their natural physical desires. Consequently, one facet of Aharon’s silence was the self-control he exhibited. He did not shout out painfully, nor ask questions of HaShem’s conduct - his unwavering trust in HaShem facilitated this self-control even over his natural emotions of a father who has lost a child, to instead remain silent.

The second aspect of Aharon’s silence starts with an explanation of the concept of speech in general. Speech is the means of conveying something which is in ‘idea’ form, via packaging the idea into finite packages called words. If you really know something, you do not need words to relate to it; words are there to be able to convey it to someone else, who does not have the same knowledge/awareness of this idea at that moment. This is because knowledge itself (yediah) is internal [you know something for it is a part of you] and speech is the method of relating to that which is currently external. A great example is oneself and one’s name; one does not relate to themselves via their name, because they know themselves internally - a name is for someone else, who does not know you as much, to relate to you. [R’ Tatz]

Another good illustration of this is something that happened with the Brisker Rav during Sukkos. The Brisker Rav was sitting in his sukkah, when Rav Elyah Lopian came in to visit him. After exchanging greetings, the pair sat opposite each other in silence for about half an hour, after which Rav Lopian said ‘good yom tov’ and left. The Brisker Rav accompanied Reb Elyah down the steps and all the way to the street, which was something he never did. When he returned to the succah, the Brisker Rav was visibly shaken. He paced back and forth and said ‘I had no idea that there is such a person alive today.’ This was an intense and electrifying communication, in which words were unnecessary, for the understanding was there between the two, as those who witnessed it reported. This is also why women use more speech than men (gemarra kiddushin), for speech is the vehicle of converting an infinite concept into finite, limited words. This mirrors the makeup /role of a woman of developing infinite potential to produce a finite result. For example in the creation of a baby it is the woman who develops the baby and gives form to the infinite contribution of the male [please G-D we shall speak more about this male-female distinction in parshas Naso].

Additionally, this is also the meaning behind the ‘three levels of a nigun (song)’ defined by one Chassidishe Rebbe. The lowest level, he said, is a nigun that has both words and a tune. A level higher is a tune with no words, and the highest level is silence. The idea is that when one is using a nigun to express themselves spiritually, the presence of a tune and words limits that expression to things which fit with the tune and words [eg introspection does not go so well with a lively tune]. In true silence, one full of expression, can one find a medium of personal expression of anything they want. In short, the concept is that if one has a full understanding of the subject in question, one does not need to use words; words are to explain it to someone else. And that is why we often get frustrated when we try to explain things to people but they fail to ‘get it’ [think of explaining directions to someone]. It is because one understands the idea so perfectly and it is so clear to them that they do not need words to relate to it; the words are for the listener, and it is frustrating to cram the idea into finite words, for them not to understand the clear picture that you have. So too, Aharon’s silence meant that he did not need to relate to the situation in words, for he had a deep understanding of it. He knew that everything HaShem does is for the best and with reason.

Have a great Shabbes,

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