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Words from a recent bat mitzvah

09/08/2020 06:09:50 PM


On August 29, 2020, Hanna Ranis celebrated her bat mitzvah at Temple Israel.  Hanna is older than most teens who become bar/bat mitzvah because her journey to that day was one that she herself initiated (with the support of her parents).  Hanna's ceremony was postponed from the spring due to COVID-19.  Hanna wrote and delivered a beautiful and meaningful d'var Torah that I share with you below.  You will be glad that you took the time to read it.  

In my Torah portion, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, are killed by God in the sanctuary while working as kohanim, or priests. It is thought that they were killed because they sacrificed incense, the highest possible offering, at an inappropriate time and place. After hearing Moses explain why his sons had been killed, Aaron, the great “spokesperson,” is silent. It seems as though Aaron is silent either because he accepts Moses’s notion that his sons did something wrong, or because he is afraid of God punishing him for speaking out. When I began to think about the greater meaning behind this silence, I realized that silence itself can show agreement, fear, and even hopelessness. 

Silence can show agreement: some people don’t say anything and it means they feel they have nothing meaningful to contribute. However, in our society right now, being a little quieter in schools and the workplace tends to be frowned upon. In reality, being quieter in a meeting or classroom isn’t always a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t listening or paying attention. I tend to be more introverted but that does not mean that I am not aware, or interested, in what is going on around me. I might even be so focused on my surroundings that I simply don’t have the energy to talk as well. Or I might feel as though others have already said exactly what's on my mind, and I don’t want to repeat their thoughts. This type of silence can be powerful because it often shows that you are listening, and even agreeing, to what someone else has to say. In the case of Aaron, he might have been silent because he didn’t have anything to add to what Moses had already said. 

However, there are certain instances when silence doesn’t show agreement or consent to an idea, but rather the fear of individual people or society. Another way of looking at Aaron’s silence was not that he agreed, but that he was fearful of what would happen if he disagreed. 

Given the recent “Me Too” movement, we see this type of fear becoming exposed. Women stayed silent because they were fearful of losing their careers if they spoke out against the horrendous actions of powerful men. Their silence didn’t stem from naturally being that way, but instead from fear of someone who had more power. This fear of breaking silence can also come from being afraid of what society itself will think of you. We don’t want to break the silence on problems because we are afraid of being ridiculed or judged by our peers, family, and social media. 

We are often fearful of breaking silence because we feel as though there is no reason to; we think those more powerful than us will get their way every time. Therefore, silence can show not only agreement and fear but also hopelessness. Yet, if we don’t talk about these issues, then we will never get anything solved because nothing will have the chance to change. Especially now, with everything going on in our world, we need to speak up because we have seen what happens when we don’t. When we don’t vote and push for change, our government is unable to cope with a true crisis. Right now, we are seeing the direct effects of what being silent can do to us. 

So, focus on one issue that you are passionate about and talk to your friends, family, and elected officials about it.  Most importantly, campaign and vote for candidates who will commit to rebuilding our country and our futures. I know it seems daunting, and sometimes we just want to curl up and hide, but we can’t. I know there are days when we have to unplug and take a break, days when we simply can’t pay attention due to our mental health.  Yet, if we can move past those days, we can do some small things. Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” When talking about silence, that light can be getting a difficult conversation started, or casting a ballot. Then, maybe our world won’t seem so dark with fear or hopelessness. Shabbat Shalom. 


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782