This dvar Torah is transcribed from the notes of a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l when I was in Chofetz Chaim Yerushalyim.
The Torah portion of Shemini describes two moments in the history of the Jewish people which are sharply contrasting: First, the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on the first of the month of Nissan. The Yalkut Shimone points out that the Mishkan was established on the first of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt, and that the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested on the Mishkan, and this dedication was like the creation of the world.
In contrast, the second moment in this week’s parsha takes place when Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought a strange fire on the alter and it consumed them as punishment. They were known as very righteous people, as we see that Moshe said that the Mishkan was established because of them. Moshe also told Aharon: “They were greater than us.” And Aharon responded with pure silence.
On Mount Sinai Hashem told Moshe that someone great would sanctify this House with his death. Moshe thought it would be him or Aharon, but it was in fact Nadav and Avihu. Aharon accepted this judgment in silence.
In the Book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) it says that there are different times to do different things. One is a time to be silent. Rashi says in that time a person will be rewarded for his or her silence, just like Aharon. Aharon’s reward was for Hashem to speak directly to him immedeatly after this incident, without Moshe as an intermediary, to inform him of certain laws concerning the priesthood. This implies that he had reached a level where only he could accept this message from Hashem.
When Koheles says there is a time for silence he means there is a time that “cries out” silence. There is a moment which is so beyond us that we cannot talk. There can be silence out of joy or out of sorrow. In Aharon’s case, there was a time declared as silence which Hashem declared upon the world, unexplained, and because Aharon recognized the silence came from G-D, was he rewarded.