“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Extreme tragedy often accompanies extreme glory. On the very day when Hashem accepts the hard work performed by the Israelites in building the Tabernacle and sanctifying the priesthood, two of Aaron’s sons die (Lev. 10:1-2).
Everything was in place. The Children of Israel had performed beautifully. They were finished with the building of the Tabernacle and the priesthood was sanctified. Everything was ready for the great moment. Suddenly, fire came from heaven to light the wood on the altar and consume the offerings of the Children of Israel. God was pleased. Whereas he had been refused entrance before (Exod. 40:35), now, with the offering accepted, Moses could approach his God again (Lev. 9). Things have not changed very much. We are still only allowed in the Divine Presence by virtue of the death of an innocent victim.
No sooner was the ecstasy of joy settled that Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, decide to make an offering of esh zarah אשׁ זרה, foreign fire’ to Adonai. As suddenly as before, Hashem's fire came out from heaven, but this time to devour the two young men. The Torah does not give us many details about the event; speculations by commentators abound as to God’s seeming irrational reaction. What I would like to bring out today is the boys' father's, Aaron’s reaction to Moses’ attempt at comforting him; the text says, "Aaron kept silent" (Lev. 10:3). Maybe that is the reason why the Torah itself remains silent; because Aaron was silent.
Aaron suffers this tragedy in the middle of a service when he is not allowed to mourn nor get out of character. Whereas he later acknowledges his grief and mourning heart (Lev. 10:19), Aaron does not permit himself to blot Hashem’s reputation and name by expressing his own feelings during the service. His two boys die, but he remains silent.
Jewish texts have commented on this with the statement, "By your silence you shall live." The idea is related to Aaron’s lofty position of honor as the High-Priest of the people. As spiritual leaders, when inexplicable tragedy strikes, when what seems unreasonable and irrational happens to us, we are not forbidden to mourn or be sad, but we may we not publicize it through words of personal anger or doubts about Hashem’s wisdom and absolute justice and righteousness.
The Master agreed to that in that he taught his disciples, "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:37). He himself, in the image of the innocent lambs daily offered on the altar was subject to a cruel and inhumane death for crimes he did not commit and yet, "he opened not his mouth" (Isa. 53:7).
May we learn from Aaron’s godly attitude. Though our hearts may be bleeding, may we learn to have control over our mouths, souls, and spirit when inexplicable tragedies strike. Hashem knows our hearts, but our mouths need not to seal our burdens on those around us who may be carrying a heavy burden of their own. Ours may the one to make them stumble and fall.