In the Book of Isaiah, we read: “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). And in Acharei Mot, we read:“The Eternal One spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal. The Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Tell your brother Aaron…’” (Lev.16:1-2). Our Torah portion opens in the wake of tragedy. Following the sudden death of Aaron’s children, we read of God’s commanded rites and rituals placed upon him in grief.
Who will live and who will die?
Who by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Each year on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we chant the haunting melody of Un’taneh Tokef. Our tradition compels us to confront the uncertainty of our future and the randomness of horrific tragedy in our world. Our parashah, Acharei Mot I, reminds us of this unsettling truth right before God instructs Moses to inform Aaron about the ritual of Yom Kippur: