Often, after having a conversation, when I’m sitting in the car driving home or at my desk, I’ll think – ugh – I wish I’d said this or that and that there was something I really should have said in that moment. But in the moment I didn’t have the right words and I spoke anyway but with words that were less than they might have been.
In this week’s Torah portion we read about the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, who took fire into the Tabernacle and who were then consumed by Adonai. Immediately after their death, we read that Moses said to Aaron, this is what Adonai spoke, saying “I will be sanctified in them that come near to me and before all the people I will be glorified”.
And Aaron’s response Vayidom Aaron - And Aaron was silent, and Aaron held his peace. In that moment, Aaron had no words to offer Moses, no words could be said in response to what his brother had just offered, and so he was silent. And in the Hebrew, Vayidom we cannot help but hear also the word dam - blood. Maybe the blood drained from his face, or maybe his cheeks became blood red in anger at what his brother was saying. We cannot know, but immediately after this, Moses continues to talk, calling members of Aaron's family to carry their kinsmen from out of the Tabernacle. And then Moses continues speaking to Aaron giving him further instructions. We have a brief interlude where Adonai actually speaks to Aaron and then Moses continues with further instructions and laws for Aaron, his brother and for his sons.
At the end of all of this, we get to an incident where Moses queries why the sin offering was not eaten in the holy place, and Aaron says to Moses, and we’ll never know exactly the tone he used, but we can imagine that he was less than pleased. “Behold this day, they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before Adonai and such things have befallen me? And, what if I had eaten the sin offering today, should it have been accepted in the sight of Adonai?”
In Aaron’s words, we get a sense of his upset at his brother, at his situation and in everything that has happened. And Moses' response, Vayishma Moshe - and Moses listened or Moses heard. In this moment, perhaps Moses realized that there were no words to offer, that throughout this time when he sought to fill the silence with words, what he should have done, what he should have been, was quiet. Listening to his brother, sharing his pain, and being there to offer support. Sometimes the right response, the only response, is silence.