22/23 June: Shabbat Chukat comes in 9:08 pm, ends 10:28 pm
Parshat Chukat reports the deaths of Miriam and Aharon. While the seven day period of impurity described in the Parashah is not itself the source for the practice of “sitting Shiva”, the thirty days in which the Israelites “cried for the loss of Aharon” is the source for the practice of sheloshim.
The thirty day period that the Israelites cried for Aharon explicitly responds to the people’s need to articulate their grief. According to the Musaf Rashi commentary (additional writings by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, France 1040-1105, which were not included in his linear commentary), the Israelites grieved for Aharon because he “pursued peace and established peace between neighbours and spouses”. They felt the loss of this tangible element of his leadership, and the Torah reports that their emotional reaction was to cry for 30 days. With Aharon’s death, the Torah indicates that the full emotional response to the loss of a person who was loved and admired can’t be contained within the confines of a purity ritual. Rather, such grief needs time.
It may be a cliché to say that time heals such wounds as are caused by the death of a loved one, but Chukat reminds us just how important it is to give ourselves time to grieve. The message of Chukat is that at a time of loss, we need to be patient with ourselves and with others. While rituals provide us with an essential supportive framework in the earliest and darkest days, the Torah also recognises that the emotional impact of our loss will be felt well beyond that first week. In honouring Aharon as a man who pursued peace in Israel during his lifetime, may the grief expressed by those he led be a model that brings us towards peace in remembering those who we dearly miss.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman