It’s April. Spring has arrived, soft rains and breezes, promises. But this week is a strange convergence. Sunday night is Holocaust memorial day, Yom Hashoah, day of the calamity, recalling how so many souls went up in smoke. The Torah portion read this week is one of death by fire of Aaron’s sons, very strange. These were not 2 ordinary boys, not just sons of Aaron, high priest, but among the select few who ascended Sinai, beheld the presence of God, ate and drank and survived. Select, holy men. They were consumed by flame in the tent because they offered “strange fire”. Taken too young, a warning, a sacrifice, a tragedy. Commentators suggest they were intoxicated, only because the next section speaks of such things, but the truth is unknown. Aaron was strangely silent, as the world was strangely silent for decades. As some survivors were until they could come to grips with the Shoah, until people were ready to hear. It also became April this week. TS Eliot wrote of April in his poem “The Waste Land”
April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rains.
It is easier to sleep than to be intensely away, dealing with loss. The poet later continues
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
May the memories of Aaron’s sons be for a blessing. They offered strange fire, but they offered, perhaps wishing, just as Moses did in last week’s reading, only to experience God more deeply. May the memories of our families lost in the Shoah also be for blessing
The song I offer is Hannah Senesh’s poem and Jeff Klepper’s music in Yeish Kochavim: There are stars up above, so far away we only see their light, long, long after the star itself is gone; and so it is with people that we’ve loved; their memories keep shining ever brightly though their time with us is done; and the stars that light up the darkest night, these are the lights that guide us; As we live our days, these are the ways we remember…
Hannah Senesh died in prison after parachuting into enemy territory for the resistance to bravely rescue people during the war . Her poems continue to light our way.