It’s been eight days since Dylann Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire, ending nine innocent lives. The funerals are still going on as I write this. The wounds are still incredibly raw.
The Jewish tradition has always understood how difficult it is to move on from death. We have ‘Shivah’ – the seven day period of intense mourning. From the eighth day to the thirtieth day, we observe a period of mourning called ‘Shloshim’ or Thirty. During this time period, the mourner leaves the house of mourning and begins the transition back to some sort of regular routine – if that is even possible.
The origin of this thirty period of mourning – when we essentially suspend our lives in order to deal with our new reality – comes from this week’s Torah portion. Following the death of Aaron – Miriam and Moses’ brother as well as the first High Priest – the Torah tells us: “The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last and all the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days (Numbers 20:29).”
Why Aaron? What did he do to stir such emotion not just in his family but in the entire community?
The answer comes in a teaching by the great sage Hillel, which has been preserved in Pirkei Avot (1:12). He said: “Be a disciple of Aaron the High Priest – a lover peace and a pursuer of peace, a lover of (God’s) creatures who brings them closer to the Torah.”
In the wake of the horrible shooting in Charleston with all of the racial overtones and implications, we need to be disciples of Aaron the High Priest and we also need to follow the example of the Israelites. We need to be a driving force for peace and we also need to facilitate a period of mourning.
As a Jewish community, we begin that process this Shabbat by participating in a Shabbat of Solidarity with our African American neighbors (click here to learn more). Here at Ohr Shalom, we will be honoring the memories of those who were killed and learning about our obligations toward our fellow human beings. This will take place during our normal Shabbat service Saturday morning starting at 9:30am. Please join us.