“And (the sons of Aaron) died, and Aaron remained silent,” the Parsha.
It was a Reader’s Digest article I must have read twenty-five years ago. About a lady who had just lost her mother, her husband was on his way home from a trip; she alone had to break the news to her little children. People were calling up offering condolences: ending with the expected (awkward?) “don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.” In the middle of it all the doorbell rang. Her husband’s friend was standing at the door with a rolled newspaper under his arm. I’ve come to shine your shoes, he announced.
“What?” was her dazed reply.
“I’ve come to shine your shoes,” he repeated. “I remember at my mother’s funeral the family was so busy, and the shock and all that we didn’t realize our shoes weren’t shined until we got to the funeral home.”
As he spread the newspaper over the floor and began scraping the soles of everyone’s shoes and polishing the uppers, the woman’s pent up sorrow and shock gratefully gave way to torrents of tears. His simple act had helped her through.
Often when there is a tragedy, friends of the mourners worry about what to say to them. That we have to say something is a given. That we have to say something is a mistake.
Sometimes silence is the most eloquent and heartfelt expression. Your silent presence is a gift that requires no explanation: gold that need not be gilded with distracting words. And the space formed by silence can be filled with simple acts: shoe shining (in a kup-in-galoshin environ) that pave a way from one heart to another, from a Jew to her Torah, from a man to his Creator.
For the mourners themselves: if you can’t express your feelings, if you feel cheated all over again this time because of the emotions sending you on this nightmare, if this all makes no sense — you don’t need to say anything. Silence gives credence to everything going on inside of you. It allows a rebuilding, a renewal inside of you. And that renewal, that rebuilding is the best consolation we have until Moshiach intervenes.
The most eloquent Holocaust Memorial I’ve ever seen? Survivors dancing at their grandchildren’s weddings and great-grandchildren’s bar mitzvahs.
with thanks to chabad.org