Songs of Joy, Counterpoints of Tragedy

Aharei Mot By :  Jonathan Lipnick Rabbi-in-Residence at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, JTS Posted On May 6, 2016 / 5776 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Holidays
Perhaps the Torah speaks now, in the spring of atonement, because we know so well our songs of joy carry with them counterpoints of tragedy. 
Ruth F. Brin, Interpretations for the Weekly Torah Reading

Why should we be reading about Yom Kippur around the time Pesah is celebrated? These two holidays seem so different, and yet, in her poem “Aharei Mot,” Ruth Brin was on to something, leading me to wonder: How was I to understand the interrelationship between Yom Kippur and Pesah? How was I to take Ruth Brin’s instructive words to heart?

My sister, Miriam, passed away less than a year ago, on a temperate and otherwise normal day in May. Recovering from this life-altering tragedy was, and remains, for me an arduous journey—one that was amplified during this year’s family seder, our first without Miriam. 

Just as Aaron, the biblical first high priest of Israel, was called on to conduct the rituals of Yom Kippur after the death of his sons, I, too, was tasked with leading a family seder in the wake of my sister’s passing. The assignment was daunting.

Barukh Hashem (thank God) for ritual that helps us to anchor and focus ourselves, creating an uplifting experience that otherwise could have been disorienting and overwhelmingly sad. The seder became a welcome counterbalance to our family’s weighty loss, a sanctuary for both joy and sadness. We sang with more spirit and cried with more purpose. And not only did we retell the story of our Exodus from Egypt, we spoke of our Miriam, too. Her memory came alive at our seder, and I felt comforted.