Sunday, April 1, 2012

Death giving meaning to life

Consecration of Aaron and his Sons
Holman Bible (1890)

Yacov Meir has again published in Haaretz daily a very thoughtful and educational study of the Parasha of the Week  Parashat Tzav / Shabbat Hagadol.

Meir's study is not easy reading. It requires concentration and patience but brilliantly rewards the work. I quote here from the end of the study (emphasis mine):

Directly afterward, the Torah relates: “... he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him” (Lev. 8:12).

This reverse process of mourning and death that is depicted in the midrash, where Aaron and his sons grieve without precisely knowing why, sheds a new light on the period of consecration of the tabernacle: There is ostensibly a possibility that each mourner is mourning his own death. Aaron and his sons sit in the sacred space, removed from the people, in the middle of a process of objectification that turns them into the entity that links heaven and earth.

Mourning is thus redefined here: It is not necessarily a response to the death of another person, but rather a process of individual, inner transformation, whereby a person deals with the possibility of his own impending death. In this sense, the process of mourning is not preparation for a game of Russian roulette, in which one of those present will surely die, but rather for a “partial” death of every one of those present. The priests’ removal from everyday life, their entry into the tabernacle and the profound transformation they experience is death in miniature. Only at the end of the process does death become consolidated and realized, targeting Nadab and Abihu.
It is the way of the world that death is invariably a surprise. The shivah enables a mourner to gradually rejoin the world of the living. However, when the process of mourning precedes the moment of death, mourning is transformed from a process of returning to life into one of gradually bidding farewell to it. In the above midrash the fatal moment − of the deaths of Aaron’s sons and of the generation of the flood − is redefined and presented not as a final separation from life, but rather as a formative event that sparks a profound metamorphosis in the relationship between the person who remains behind and God. Death is thus portrayed as granting meaning to life.
Yacov Meir
Haaretz Sunday, April 01, 2012 Nisan 9, 5772