“Vayidom Aharon” “And Aaron was silent” (Leviticus 10:30)
I once had many habits that would mask the honesty of my spoken thoughts. I giggled, talked quickly, mumbled and spoke in ways that made it easy to disregard and hard to argue with what I had said. Similarly, when I first started speaking and singing on stage, my voice was thin, little and sometimes my throat would close down. A voice teacher once asked me to make the biggest noise that I could. I tried. She kept asking. I kept trying. I remember vividly the feeling of being stuck inside myself, trapped. As much as I had things to say, I was unable to share my voice: my truth spoken through the voice and words.
Vayidom Aharon. “And Aaron was silent.”
I have struggled to reconcile my journey to voice my inner life with the silencing in the lines of this week’s Torah reading. That part of me that knows what it feels to be silenced and trapped wants to yell at the text, “Noooo!”
In the musicality of the text, in the rhythm of the language, we hear the drama of Aaron’s sons being consumed by the fire as a consequence for them bringing “foreign fire,” something of their own and not according to the procedures that God has just prescribed. We hear the tension peak with Moses’ rebuke to Aaron, “This is what God meant when God said ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And assert My authority before all the people’” (Leviticus 10:30) Then the verse ends with the sentence: Vayidom Aharon. A succinct sentence, with a quieting “mm” sound in the middle, it breaks the tension, and bringing to our ears an abrupt silence at the end of the story.
This text fills me with questions, but no answers.
Did Moses intend to silence Aaron? Did Moses’ rebuke shut Aaron down? Was Aaron speechless from emotion, but loud with his presence? Did Aaron feel shame for his sons’ behavior and therefore unable to speak?
Did Aaron realize that moment was not an appropriate context in which to express his sense of loss and save it for another time? Is the text suggesting to us that Aaron kept his feelings quiet in the public space and mourned later on his own?
What are the things that silence us in our lives? When are we too embarrassed to show our emotions? When do we feel too ashamed to speak? When do we quiet our own voices because we have devalued the worth of what we have to say?
And, when do we silence others by redirecting the conversation? By attacking their ideas? By not really listening or caring to what they have to say?
One of my teachers at a seminar I attended this week suggested that rich texts like the Biblical verses mentioned, allow for multiple interpretations. He taught us that we can challenge and support ideas with the text itself, and that in doing so, we give the text a voice.
Eventually, I found teachers who would help me release my voice. I found people who valued what I had to say and encouraged me to continue voicing my thoughts.
Help me to give this text a voice too. Listen to it. When this text speaks, I hear the silence of Aaron’s suffering. Listen. What do you hear?