Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Parashat Shemini- Mourning Takes Time & Effort

Vayomer Moshe el Aharon ul’Elazar ul’Itamar banav rosheichem al tifra’u uvigdeichem lo tifromo v’lo tamutu v’al kol ha’eidah yiktzof.
And Moshe said to Aaron and to his sons, Elazar and Itamar, “Do not bare your heads or rend your clothes lest you die and anger strike the whole community.

The position of leader brings with it many limitations. We see this throughout Moshe’s life, from his relationship with his family to his own death. After his personal encounter with God at Har Sinai, Moshe is also physically separated, his face covered with a veil whenever in public.

In parashat Shemini, Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons, burn “strange fire” to God, causing their deaths. Moshe instructs two nephews, non-priests, to remove and bury the bodies. Aaron and his remaining sons are instructed not to display signs of public mourning lest it effect all of B’nei Yisrael. As spiritual leaders of Israel, Aaron and his sons must continue with business as usual, their personal feelings, their necessary mourning set aside for private time only.

The week of shiva, followed by the hodesh and the shannah of Kaddish, are extremely important to the process of mourning. The tearing of one’s clothes, a physical expression of grief, is meant to begin the physical catharsis that continues through the year. Shiva, in the best of circumstances, continues this process. The mourners are given time to ignore normal day-to-day needs in favour of focusing upon the process of mourning, sharing memories of the deceased and giving into the rollercoaster of emotion. The communal support during shiva, which in the most closely knit communities continues through the hodesh and the shannah, allows the mourners to share and process this emotion and gradually return to community life.

Aaron and his family are denied this opportunity. All too often individuals and families in the public eye are critiqued for their reactions to emotional events. Their every action is reported on news and gossip shows. If they are too emotional they are criticized for their inability to “hold it together,” and if stoic for not caring enough. Leaders and personalities are not characters in a reality TV show. They are real people with needs for privacy and the ability to share emotions within their own communities without reports of their every action like hockey scores.

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