Acharei Mot, “after the deaths” is the name of this week’s parasha and poignantly, we read it during the week we commemorate Yom Hashoah, when we are “after the deaths” of so many millions of our people. In our parasha, Aaron is mourning the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu who were consumed by fire. In the aftermath of their deaths Aaron is silent, he has no words, no ability to contain his pain, shock and suffering in the vessels of letters, so he is silent, mute in the face of the unthinkable loss of his two sons. During the Shoah, the Aarons of our people lost more than two sons, whole families were decimated, murdered in the darkest moments of our people’s history.
Yesterday BBYO led the commemoration of Yom ha Shoah. As part of the ceremony they read some of he names of those who were murdered in the Shoah. Some have family to remember them, others have nobody left, and so we recite their names, acknowledging each individual, not a number or a statistic but a person. And survivors and their families speak the names of their loved ones: a name, my mother, a name, my father, a name, my sister, a name, my grandmother, a name, my aunt, and then “130 cousins and other members of my family.” Even at this ceremony the names are too many to recite, just of those lost to the small gathering of people. Our people’s loss is so great it is almost incomprehensible and for a time we, like Aaron, were silent. It was too hard to speak. There were no words which could describe what happened, the darkness of the endless night of horror, suffering and pain. The Shoah has been called an uncreation, where the world began to fall apart, the rules and understandings of humanity were reversed, nothing made sense, we returned to the primordeal state of tohu vavohu. But then we slowly returned to life. Like Aaron in our Torah portion this week, the survivors took up the reigns of life again and began to create, to put the pieces back together, to exist in a world forever changed. Aaron is not the same man he was before his loss, the shadow of his suffering will always be with him, but he returns to life. He receives the instructions for Yom Kippur, his duties, his responsibilities continue and he begins to carve a future for himself and his remaining family.
So too the survivors. They emerged from the horror and they built and created, they forged ahead with life. The courage, strength, determination they showed to make a future for themselves, to go on, to live is astounding. They built the foundations upon which we now flourish and grow. And then there was need for a new response, no longer silence but now words, trying to understand, to shape and mold language to contain the emotions, the memories, the experiences, to tell the stories so that we will never forget. And so we say the names, millions of names. But like Nadav and Avihu whose names we know, we know about their deaths but now we need to also know about their lives. We must tell the stories of those who died in the Shoah, not just the story of their deaths but also the story of their lives. To know who they were, their loves, their passions, their joys, their dreams.
Yesterday our BBYO group called upon us to remember the stories, the lives of those who were murdered. And that is our sacred task now, to speak, to write, to record and to remember the richness of each life taken, the fullness of their being.
Zichronam Livrecha may their memories be a blessing.