Pursuit of Peace - Masei
וַיַּעַל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אֶל הֹר הָהָר עַל פִּי ה' וַיָּמָת שָׁם בִּשְׁנַת הָאַרְבָּעִים לְצֵאת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ. (במדבר לג, לח)
The only time in the entire Torah that it states the exact date of someone’s death is with Aharon HaKohen. With everyone else it says how old they were when they died, sometimes the month, but not the exact year, month and day. Chazal, in the Gemara and the Midrashim reveal the dates of the others by deduction, but the Torah itself tells us only one and there is a good reason for it.
This erev Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, is the yahrzeit of Aharon HaKohen and it is only fitting to devote this shiur to analyzing the personality of this iconic figure in the Torah and learn an important musar haskel for the upcoming nine days before Tisha Be’Av.
Aharon was a Levi, eldest son of Amram, the gadol hador. Unlike his younger brother Moshe, Aharon grew up in a Jewish home and studied Torah from his father. When Amram died, Moshe was not around – he was in Midyan and Aharon, being the bechor (of the sons, Miriam was older than Aharon), became Amram’s successor and leader of Am Yisrael. Chazal tell us that Aharon was also a navi.
The first time the Torah mentions Aharon, is after the Sneh, when HKB”H appears to Moshe and tells him to return to Egypt to redeem Am Yisrael. Moshe is reluctant for two reasons. He has a speech impediment and cannot speak eloquently, but more importantly, because he does not want to supplant his older brother as leader. HKB”H is angry with Moshe –
וַיִּחַר אַף ה' בְּמֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר הֲלֹא אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ הַלֵּוִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא וְגַם הִנֵּה הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ. (שמות ד, יד)
The fact that Moshe had been chosen to lead Am Yisrael was known to Aharon, he was a navi. This passuk gives us our first insight into Aharon’s character. Hashem tells Moshe that Aharon has also been informed and he is on the way to meet you “and he saw you and was happy in his heart” (in the past tense). The passuk does not say “and he will see you and be happy in his heart”. Aharon has already seen in a nevuah that Moshe was to become leader. Aharon had time to mull this over before his reunion with Moshe. It could easily be a prickly issue, the younger brother “deposing” his older brother. Aharon had time to process this before meeting up with Moshe and you might think that after thinking long and hard, Aharon finally accepted it. But no, the passuk tells us – “he saw you and was happy”. From the instant he first heard the nevuah, he was happy and bore no animosity to Moshe, quite the opposite, he was happy in his heart – not just outwardly happy where everyone else could see, but deep in his heart, where only HKB”H can see.
HKB”H tells Moshe that Aharon will be his “mouthpiece”, he will do the talking. For such a “big talker”, the psukkim almost never mention Aharon himself actually saying anything – it is always Moshe and Aharon ….. From being the gadol hador and leader of Am Yisrael, Aharon is amazingly without any “personality” of his own, nothing is his own initiative. Whatever he says to Pharaoh is what Hashem tells Moshe to tell him to say. When he throws down his staff and it becomes a snake, it is because Hashem tells Moshe to tell him to.
The only time in the psukkim Aharon speaks independently is when Moshe is not there. Moshe has gone up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Aharon and Hur are left behind, in charge. When Moshe is “late” in returning, the erev rav ask Aharon and Hur to create a replacement for Moshe. Hur objects and they kill him. Then, for the first time in the Torah, Aharon speaks from his own initiative, not something he has been told to say. “Take off the earrings from your wives’ and daughters’ ears and bring them to me”. They do. Aharon then says “Tomorrow is a chag”. Am Yisrael then sin with the eigel hazahav. When Moshe returns and asks Aharon, “What did this people do to you that made you bring such a sin upon them?” Aharon then replies, again from his own mind, not something he was told to say “Do not be angry my lord, you knew ‘this people’ that they were bad”.
That’s it meanwhile for Aharon speaking. After that it is back to the old pattern – Hashem telling Moshe, telling Aharon what to do. The whole of sefer Vayikra is like that.
We then have the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two sons who died bringing ketoret when they were not supposed to, during the inauguration of the Mishkan. What is Aharon’s response to that? וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן. Aharon is shtum! He says nothing. If any two words in the Torah epitomize the character of Aharon as it appears on the surface, it is these two words. Aharon is silent, he does not say anything unless told to, he doesn’t do anything unless told to, he doesn’t object, he doesn’t ……. anything!!!!
The last time the Torah mentions Aharon actually “saying” anything that he was not told to, is when Miriam and Aharon speak lashon harah against Moshe. וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח..... But even here, it is not clear that Aharon was not “told” what to say. It mentions Miriam before Aharon and it is Miriam who was punished, not Aharon. Aharon’s only self-prompted words are a plea to Moshe to pray to HKB”H to heal her.
Korach challenges Aharon’s appointment as Kohen Gadol. Aharon says nothing. Moshe tells Aharon to bring ketoret in the camp to stop the plague. Aharon knows that anyone bringing ketoret in the wrong place will die, but he says …. nothing and does as he is told. Moshe strikes the rock instead of speaking to it and HKB”H says that for this sin Moshe and Aharon will die and not enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe pleads with HKB”H to allow him to enter the Promised Land וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל ה', Aharon doesn’t say, “What did I do?” He says …. nothing. HKB”H tells Moshe to tell Aharon to ascend Hor Hahar where he will die. Aharon doesn’t say “Just give me five minutes to say goodbye to my wife, children and grandchildren”. He does as he is told and immediately follows Moshe up the mountain.
Aside from the tragedy with the eigel and with Miriam getting leprosy, Aharon does not open his mouth to say what is in his mind and in his heart. Aharon has no opinion! There is a word for that – a "robot”. If we were to rely on the psukkim in the Torah alone, this is what Aharon appears to be, a robot! No mind of his own, always doing others’ bidding, devoid of feeling, even when his two sons die, even when his status is challenged, when he is seemingly being unjustly punished … not even saying farewell to his family before he dies!
However, the first passuk that mentions Aharon in the Torah is a hint that all is not as it seems.
Chazal say, if you want to understand the root of something, you look for the first time it is mentioned in the Torah. The first mention of Aharon tells us that he saw Moshe and was happy in his heart. The true Aharon was nothing like a robot at all! This was a man of non-stop initiative. In addition, Aharon was expert at speaking and he did a lot of it, despite the opposite impression from the psukkim. Even HKB”H testifies that Aharon was a speaker כִּי דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא. Chazal help fill in a few of the blanks to help us understand who Aharon really was.
In Masechet Kalah (chap. 3) it tells us that 80,000 young men accompanied Aharon’s coffin when he died and they were all named Aharon. The reason they were named Aharon is because they were born bizchut Aharon. One of Aharon’s main “clandestine” activities was making peace and שלום בית between couples with marital problems.
It may seem difficult to grasp that there was marital strife in the Midbar, because the Mefarshim say that most marital problems revolve around financial issues. In the Midbar finance was a non-issue, nobody lacked anything – they had Mann, the Well of Miriam, the Clouds of Glory that dry-cleaned and pressed their clothes and 90 Libyan donkeys laden with riches (not that you could buy anything with it in the Midbar). But Chazal tell us, that despite this there was still marital strife in the Midbar.
I heard an interesting analysis of this sugya from HaRav Baruch Rosenblum shlit”a. He says, that if Aharon helped save 80,000 marriages (it was probably double that because there were probably an additional 80,000 young women named Aharona as well, that didn’t accompany the coffin), that means (at least) 80,000 marriages saved in 40 years. This makes 2,000 marriages saved a year. If there are 365 days in the year, that makes about 6 marriages a day. According to an expert marriage counselor he asked, HaRav Rosenblum says that the minimum average time it takes to deal with a marital dispute is two hours – one hour hearing from the husband, everything that is wrong with the wife and another hour hearing from the wife, everything that is wrong with the husband. Six sessions of that a day makes twelve hours of every day – that Aharon spent doing marriage counseling! Nobody told him to do it, Moshe didn’t, Hashem didn’t! This was entirely Aharon’s own initiative.
And that was not the only thing Aharon was doing every day. He was also making שלום between people with disputes. Shmulik who was insulted at what Chaim said, Srulik who took offense to the way Yankel always cut him off midsentence, Moishe who was ברוגז with Nachshon who didn’t participate in the bris of his son …… Apparently not only was there marital strife in the Midbar, there was also neighborly strife! Aharon would drop whatever he was doing and go visit Shmulik at his home (tent) and tell him that he had just met with Chaim who sincerely regretted what he had done to him. Aharon would then go visit Chaim at his tent and say he had just met Shmulik who was crying crocodile tears of remorse for having argued with Chaim. The next time Shmulik saw Chaim, they hugged and made up.
On his way to Shmulik and Chaim, Aharon would pass people like Shlumiel in the street. Shlumiel was known to be not the biggest tzaddik, in fact many believed he was a thief. Aharon had heard about him, but he greeted him with a smile and a warm “Good morning!” Shlumiel, who knew what he was, was absolutely blown away that a tzaddik like Aharon was actually not running a mile when he saw him, quite the opposite, it was all gushing and smiles. This prompted Shlumiel to do tshuva.
Never mind the hours spent doing his actual work as Kohen Gadol in the Mishkan, bringing the Minchat Chavitin etc.
It is not clear when Aharon ever slept, never mind spending time with his family.
When the Torah tells us that Aharon spoke his “own” words, they were to save Am Yisrael from a disaster, by trying to delay them from making the eigel until Moshe returned, telling them to take their womenfolk’s earrings. Have you ever tried to part a woman from her jewelry? The Midrash says that the men actually “ripped” the earrings out of their wives’ and daughters’ ears! Aharon thought it would delay them, but it didn’t. He said to them “Wait until tomorrow, there will be a chag”, thinking they would sleep late, but they woke up bright and early. When Aharon took initiative to do or say something of his own, it was with one single, solitary purpose – for the good of Am Yisrael.
Aharon knew that his part in the eigel was wrong, but he sacrificed himself for Am Yisrael. If they would have killed him as well as Hur, they would be liable for אִם יֵהָרֵג בְּמִקְדַּשׁ ה' כֹּהֵן וְנָבִיא, something for which there is no kapara! At least for avoda zara someone can do tshuva.
The only rebuke we ever hear from Aharon is in response to Moshe’s anger at him. It is not even a “outright rebuke”. He addresses Moshe as אֲדֹנִי. From this we learn the art of הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ, first begin with a compliment and only then the rebuke – “My lord, you knew who the erev rav were but you decided to let them tag along”. Is it any wonder therefore that with such a magical, disarming technique, Aharon was so successful in making שלום and getting people to return to the straight and narrow?
The only other time Aharon speaks “out of turn” is to ask Moshe to pray to heal Miriam from the leprosy, not for himself, for his sister.
A picture is starting to form of this incredible personality that was Aharon HaKohen. It is a personality devoid of “self”. To Aharon HaKohen, Aharon did not exist, there was no private person Aharon. His entire being was devoted to others, to the service of HKB”H and Am Yisrael.
Aharon, like Moshe, was from the Tribe of Levi. Shimon and Levi had the DNA of zealotry. Moshe exhibits this character trait more than once, that he gets angry, the Torah specifies it in the psukkim. Where do we ever see in the Torah that Aharon became angry? Aharon never gets angry – he is the most un-Levi like Levi you could possible find.
Aharon is blind acceptance and blind obedience, but not that of a mechanical robot. It is acceptance and obedience out of choice and out of joy! וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ.
The only kind of person who is like that - is someone who by nature is truly שָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, who wholeheartedly believes that what he has, is exactly the right thing for him – the best thing for him. Someone like that will never bear a grudge, not against his fellow man and not against HKB”H.
“My younger brother Moshe the new leader? Baruch Hashem, I am not leader material. I do not have the aggressiveness necessary to be the leader Am Yisrael deserves”. “My two sons dead in the Mishkan? Baruch Hashem, they were zocheh to be the two great tzaddikim who would be mechaper the sins of Am Yisrael”. “I am going to be punished for Moshe hitting the rock? I must have done something wrong myself as well, I should have prevented it”.
Before Aharon HaKohen, there was no one who completely cancelled their “self”, removed their personal needs and interests totally from the equation (Rachel Imeinu minimized her self, but did not totally cancel it). For such a person, it is impossible to accept the reality of conflict. Conflict is a derivative of “self” – I need, I deserve, I want, I, I, I. “I deserve to be happy”, “I need my beauty sleep”, “I want to feel secure”. When your “self” is not satisfied, you bear animosity to the “party” that does not satisfy it, another person or even, chas vechalila, HKB”H. “What did I do to deserve this?”
Aharon HaKohen could not rest or sleep in the knowledge that there were two people fighting with each other, it occupied every spare second of his time. He understood what true peace means, it is not only a peace between people, it is also an inner peace between you and yourself. He wanted others to enjoy the same joy he felt, he radiated joy. He smiled at everyone he encountered and every situation in life he encountered.
Aharon HaKohen was willing to sacrifice his life multiple times for Am Yisrael - When he took the brunt of the sin of the eigel upon himself, when he unhesitatingly went out amongst Am Yisrael and brought the ketoret to stop the plague.
This is the kind of person HKB”H wanted to be Kohen Gadol. The job of the Kohen Gadol (and Kohanim in general) is to put aside your “self” and dedicate yourself entirely to Am Yisrael. The representative of Am Yisrael to HKB”H, must be a conduit, with no “self” getting in the way - a true servant of the people and HKB”H.
In Aharon’s merit Am Yisrael received the ענני הכבוד. Unlike the Mann and the water from the Well of Miriam, which were essential for survival, the Clouds of Glory were not – they were a luxury. They were “going the extra mile”, because they were bizchut someone whose entire life was “going the extra mile”.
There have been very few people like Aharon HaKohen throughout history, if any. Aharon is the ideal, the model. Perhaps the closest to him was Hillel Hazaken. Not surprisingly then that Hillel’s central motto is –
הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה. (אבות א, יב)
But not only Hillel, also Shamai Hazaken –
הֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת. (אבות א, טו)
Both Hillel and Shamai were talmidim of Aharon HaKohen. They smiled at each other. Yes they had serious academic disputes about the essence of halacha, but it was a dispute in the beit hamidrash. As soon as they left the beit hamidrash, it was all smiles, with each’s family marrying members of the other’s. This is the true “litmus test” of a peaceful relationship, even today – whether you participate in each other’s simchas, or not. Truth and peace are not adversaries, they are symbiotic. Only through peace can you arrive at the truth. This is the meaning of the passuk in Mishlei (3, 17) - דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי נֹעַם וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם, the Torah (truth) can only be attained through peace.
For Hillel, it was not sufficient to want peace. Who do you know who doesn’t "want" peace? We want there to be peace on the border with Gaza. We want there to be peace between the Jews. We want there to be peace in the Ukraine, in the world … But wanting is not enough, you have to pursue it. Hillel pursued peace, he first taught his talmidim Shamai’s teachings before his own. That is pursuing peace.
As we approach the nine days, there is an aura of heaviness, an aura of tension, an aura of animosity, an aura of impending elections, an aura of conflict in the air.
If we analyze conflict, it all stems from focusing on the “self”. “I need the budget for my yeshiva bochrim to study in yeshivas”. “I need improved roads in Yehuda VeShomron”. “I need to have a higher salary as a teacher”. “I need there to be MRI machines in the periphery”. These are all legitimate needs and they inevitably lead to conflict because the State of Israel does not have bottomless coffers. Even if we did, there are other, ideological conflicts that have nothing to do with budget. None of us are (yet) on the level of Aharon HaKohen who can totally cancel their “self”, but we should strive to reach that level.
It is a slow, laborious process, but it starts somewhere. It starts with a smile.
Smiling more in the nine days seems counter intuitive, but nothing could be more in spirit with the occasion. The reason we have the nine days of mourning in the first place is because of a lack of smiles that led to conflict that led to sinat chinam. We should even smile on Tisha Be’Av. Yes, there is a minhag not to greet people on Tisha Be’Av, but nowhere does it say you should not smile at people. הֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת is not limited to specific times, it should be perpetual, even on Tisha Be’Av. Not a “laughing” smile, like you are having fun or laughing at a joke, but a smile that communicates “I am aware of you, I recognize your presence”. That kind of smile develops into an “I respect you” smile, which develops into an “I love you smile”. It is a process and takes time, not like the Israelis like to say זבאנג וגמרנו. It takes effort to smile. Try it and see how difficult it really is …….. it is DIFFICULT! How much Am Yisrael needs right now to work on our smiles.
It is not by chance that Aharon HaKohen’s yahrzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh Av. It is the only yahrzeit whose date is specifically mentioned in the Torah, as a perpetual reminder what we should be doing to fix the damage that resulted in our mourning.
Be’Ezrat Hashem, by making a superhuman effort to smile and accept our brothers and sisters בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת and thus reduce conflict amongst us, we will be laying the foundation for the imminent Geulah and we will then merit the nevuah of Zecharia Hanavi –
כֹּה אָמַר ה' צְבָ-קוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ.