Home Digital Content Library “Cognitive Dissonance,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
Blog post

“Cognitive Dissonance,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

April 5, 2024 | 26 Adar II 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

His two sons died. It is right in this week’s portion, Shemini.

In an elaborate ceremony and precise ritual conducted by Aaron with the assistance of his sons, Aaron received ordination. It is a culminating moment of celebration and spiritual significance.

And then, in an instant, it all changed.

Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Abihu, came forward with their own offering of alien fire.

And fire came forth from the Eternal and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Eternal. (Lev. 10:2)

Moses speaks, but Aaron is silent. וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַהֲרֹֽן

What are we to make of his silence in the face of such devastation? Is the pain too much to bear?  Is he stunned or paralyzed with no breath to speak? Would what he could offer bring any meaning to what must have felt senseless?

Ecclesiastes (3:7) informs us that there is

A time for silence and a time for speaking. עֵ֥ת לַחֲשׁ֖וֹת וְעֵ֥ת לְדַבֵּֽר׃

The Hebrew words are different though. With Aaron, his silence made him motionless and still with a deafening silent cry of grief. There were no words and no place to move but just to be.

We feel for him. How could we not?

In these past months, there have been too many, so many parents who have had to bury their children. Their weeping has no borders. Their grief carries a deafening cry. Parents in Israel and parents in Gaza share that humanity. It has been an awful week of destruction. We watch from afar yet feel close to the pain. Empathy is a precious commodity, a priceless resource available to us all.

We want the hostages home, the starvation to cease, and the best that people are capable of to prevail in Israel and Gaza, and also in our own communities. Our words of compassion matter even in the presence of our anger and frustration. It is a form of cognitive dissonance. Our expression of what is just and right may not be exactly the same for each of us and yet we can share broken hearts and grave concern for those innocent souls suffering.

Aaron was silent but eventually he found a way forward, forever changed. Sometimes, the stillness makes way for the words of our hearts and minds to create a pathway toward what might be better beyond this fractured world.

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!


    • We come together as a community to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m., onsite or online. Register to join on Zoomor log on via Facebook Live, or our websiteThis week we welcome guest scholar Dr. Howard Smith.
    • Torah Study gathers onsite or Register to join on zoom at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading, followed by an engaging study and conversation with guest scholar Dr. Howard Smith. All levels and abilities are welcomed!
    • TGIS (Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat) gathers at 10:00 a.m. onsite. No registration necessary.
    • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher