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Parashat Shemini: Humility and Acceptance

The Torah in Parashat Shemini tells the tragic story of the death of Aharon’s sons Nadab and Abihu on the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration. We read that Aharon reacted to this painful loss with silence: "Va’yidom Aharon." He did not complain, express anger or question G-d’s judgment, even in the face of this tragedy, the most painful loss a parent could ever suffer.

The Gemara points to Aharon’s reaction as one of three classic examples of people who accepted Hashem’s judgment. The other two, the Gemara comments, were Abraham Abinu, who said about himself, "Anochi Afar Va’efer" ("I am but dust and ashes"), and David Ha’melech, who said, "Anochi Tola’at Ve’lo Ish" ("I am just a worm, not a man").

We might ask how these other two instances – Abraham and David – exemplify the quality of accepting G-d’s judgment. Certainly, Abraham and David’s proclamations were remarkable expressions of humility, recognizing their insignificance in relation to the Almighty. But how do these expressions of humility relate to the theme of accepting G-d’s judgments, as expressed by Aharon?

One explanation is that humility is, indeed, a prerequisite to acceptance. An arrogant person can only accept that which he can understand. If one feels highly about his own intellect and feels confident in his ability to understand everything, he will naturally reject anything he cannot understand. After all, he can comprehend anything that is comprehensible, and thus by definition, something that he cannot understand must not be correct. A humble person, by contrast, recognizes his limits and acknowledges that there is much he will be unable to understand. And thus he can accept and live with the incomprehensible. Realizing that there are always things he never understands, that G-d’s wisdom is infinitely greater than his, that in comparison to G-d he is no more than "dust," "ashes" or a "worm," he can calmly accept what G-d does without complaint or questions. The one thing he clearly understands is that there are things he will never understand.

How do we attain the level of "Va’yidom Aharon," the ability to remain calm and composed even during life’s trying moments? The answer is in Abraham and David’s declarations about their own lowliness. By recognizing just how limited our capabilities are, we can train ourselves to trust G-d’s decisions, however incomprehensible they may be, and accept that everything He does is just.

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