I didn't know Aliza Shull. But I did know of her. That's because my friends Ezzie and Moshe both knew her.
I know that she is a woman of extraordinary courage who has suffered a battle against a cruel illness that has finally taken her from us. I know that Moshe marvelled at the way that she was, the way that she acted, even in the depths of that illness.
I know something else. It is that anyone who passes away during this week, during which we read the parsha of Shemini, is someone who is specifically chosen. That is because this week we read of the passing of Nadav and Avihu. And although many know the common interpretation that they passed away because they sinned, there is a much more beautiful explanation which states that they were chosen by God, that their very deaths were the way in which God chose to sanctify and inaugurate His Temple.
This is the way in which Moshe comforts Aharon. He speaks aloud and says: הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל פְּנֵי כָל הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד
Rashi explains this as follows:
הוא אשר דבר וגו': היכן דבר ונועדתי שמה לבני ישראל ונקדש בכבודי (שמות כט מג). אל תקרי בכבודי אלא במכובדי. אמר לו משה לאהרן אהרן אחי יודע הייתי שיתקדש הבית במיודעיו של מקום והייתי סבור או בי או בך, עכשיו רואה אני שהם גדולים ממני וממך:
This is what the Lord spoke: But when did He speak? [It was when He said], “And I will meet with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified through My glory (בִּכְבוֹדִי) ” (Exod. 29:43). Do not read בִּכְבוֹדִי, “through My glory,” but בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, “through My honorable ones.” Moses said to Aaron, “Aaron, my brother! I knew that this House was to be sanctified through the beloved ones of the Omnipresent, but I thought it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than I or you!”- [Vayikra Rabbah 12:2]
Moshe believed that the House was to be sanctified through himself or Aharon, but in fact Nadav and Avihu were greater than he or his brother! And it was specifically because they were so close to God, so precious, that they were chosen by God to sanctify his Temple.
And so it seems to me that the fact that Aliza Shull has left us on this Shabbat is no coincidence. Aliza Shull was called away from us to join God- why? Because she was chosen, because she was one who was close to Him, and in this way she returned to Him; she passed away today, when God gathered the ones who were closest to Him in order to sanctify his House, and she too was gathered today...she too was chosen.
I do not suggest that this will comfort us, that this provides a reason, or an answer. But I believe it provides us with an understanding of this woman, who suffered so much, and like Aharon, was often silent despite that suffering, and who was chosen by God today to rejoin Him within his realm. It is a special person who merits to be taken by God because of his closeness to Him; Aliza Shull was such a person.