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Chukat-Balak 5780: Give Someone Peace of Mind; Not a Piece of Yours

Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING! For the past month or so, we have seen peaceful and not so peaceful demonstrations through out our nation. In many ways, these demonstrations highlight what’s best about our country – after all, freedom of speech and expression is the bedrock of American democracy. Still, violence, property damage, and looting should be unacceptable at any time. Unfortunately, much of what has transpired has only widened the pre-existing divide between the different ideological philosophies of the right and the left. These are truly difficult times for the (not so) United States of America.

Strife is always painful; when something is torn apart there is bound to be some level of suffering. This is why the word for peace in Hebrew is shalom. The word shalom comes from the Hebrew word “shalem – whole.” When we have unity we have peace. As discussed last week, meaningful discussions resulting in differing opinions do not necessarily lead to disunity. On the contrary, differing views on life make individuals unique and complementary to one another. But the key is to get along on a personal level.

We find a remarkable statement in the Torah. After listing a plethora of blessings that come as a result of following the mitzvot – the Torah adds; “And you will dwell in your land securely and I will give peace in the land…” (Leviticus 26:5-6). The famous medieval biblical commentator known as Rashi makes the following observation: “If there is no peace there is nothing.” He continues, “Having peace is equal to every other blessing combined” (Rashi ad loc).

Obviously, the inverse is true as well. Without an environment of peace, no blessing can be appreciated. Without a true peace of mind there is little quality of life. This is true on a national level as well as a personal level. In fact, the harmony in one’s own home is known as “shalom bayit – a peaceful home.” This is why Hillel, the great Jewish sage of the first century, stated: “Be a student of Aaron – love peace, pursue peace.” (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:12).

Aaron was the brother of Moses and held the position of High Priest (Kohen Gadol). That is, he and his sons were charged with ultimate responsibility for the spiritual services in the tabernacle such as bringing sacrifices, burning incense, lighting the menorah, and all the holiday rituals and services.

Astoundingly, Aaron’s true legacy to the Jewish people is that he “loved peace and pursued peace.” Our sages describe the enormous amount of time that Aaron spent bringing peace to fighting business partners and quarreling married couples. Anyone who has ever done couples counseling will tell you how exhausting and emotionally draining this endeavor can be.

Consider the seeming incongruity of Aaron’s life; he held the position of High Priest, a job requiring a devotional reverence and solemnity in fulfilling the spiritual duties and ceremonies of the tabernacle in the service of the Almighty. Naturally, one would envision the one who holds this position to be aloof and lead the life of an ascetic. Yet he was the one individual most focused on the mundane matters of resolving the complexities of human relationships!

Of course, this week’s Torah is so very relevant to this subject. This week’s reading records events that took place in the fortieth (and final) year of the Children of Israel’s desert sojourns. One of these sadder episodes is the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother. The Torah states:

The entire congregation saw that Aaron had perished, and they wept for thirty days, the entire House of Israel (Numbers 20:29).

Our sages are puzzled by the Torah’s curious comment that Aaron was mourned by “the entire House of Israel.” Rashi (ad loc) explains that Aaron was mourned by everyone, including the women, because Aaron’s personality is described as one who pursues peace – “he would instill a love between quarreling parties and between a man and his wife.”

Rashi contrasts the depiction of the mourning for Aaron to the mourning that took place when Moses died: “The Children of Israel wept for Moses...” (Deuteronomy 34:8). Rashi (ad loc) explains that when Moses died he was mourned by only the men, but when Aaron died he was mourned by both the men and the women. In other words, the women also felt the loss when Aharon died because Aharon contributed to their shalom bayit – maintaining a harmonious marriage.

Yet, this disparity in the mourning is difficult to understand. The Babylonian Talmud (Taanis 9a) explains that it was in the merit of Moses that the Children of Israel received the miraculous manna bread for the forty years in the desert. Surely, the women could appreciate the benefit of the manna that came to them through the merit of Moses as well. Why is it that they felt the death of Aaron so much more acutely that they openly mourned for him but did not mourn Moses in the same manner when he passed?

The reason that they mourned Aaron was because he directly contributed to their shalom bayis, an ideal that they have a shared responsibility to maintain. In other words, real shalom bayis is only achieved when both the husband and wife take responsibility for the health of their relationship. It is the responsibility of both parties to ensure a harmonious home.

By contrast, the obligation of being a breadwinner falls primarily on the shoulders of the husband. It is his responsibility to make sure that his family is provided for. The burden of supporting the family is a not a wife’s first obligation or responsibility. While many women work to help support their families, the key word is “help” – they are helping their husband meet his obligations.

Unfortunately, today many young men feel entitled and expect their wives to work to support the family. However, this isn’t the Jewish view of marriage, and it should be obvious to every groom because the kesuvah (the Jewish marriage contract) is a unilaterally binding contract – describing only the obligations that the husband is accepting upon himself and outlines very clearly that he is the one responsible to support his wife; there is no quid pro quo.

The manna that came on behalf of Moses was a kindness directly to the men of the family whose responsibility it is to support their household. Thus, when Moses died the women weren’t as sensitive to feeling a personal loss that would cause them to grieve. On the other hand, Aaron’s death was a personal loss as it related to their shared responsibility for maintaining a harmonious home.

The burden of maintaining a relationship falls on both parties in the relationship. Aaron, who was entrusted as the go-between for the Jewish people and the Almighty, understood that. Aharon did not sit idly in the “ivory tower” of the temple and its service. Service to the Almighty isn’t as much about fealty as it is about the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Of course, with a relationship comes obligations of loyalty and responsibilities, but it’s a result of the relationship, not God’s oppressive dominion and desire, that we bend to His will.

This is why Aaron’s lone descendant, Pinchas, who was not initially appointed a priest, merits becoming a Kohen, because he restores the peace between God and the Jewish people – as we shall see in the Torah reading in a few weeks.

The reason that the entirety of the Torah is focused on relationships is because relationships are what gives meaning to our lives. I once read an interview in which Warren Buffet said that the measure of a person’s success isn’t how much money they amassed, it’s one very simple test – if the people that are supposed to love you do.

How does your husband/wife feel about you? Your kids? Your business partner? Your siblings? If we make an honest assessment and we find ourselves lacking we need to begin to improve in this area.

A good way to begin is by saying, “I want you to know how much I value having you in my life. I know things haven’t been the best between us, but I’d like to make them better. What can I do to begin to improve our relationship?” Just making that statement and asking that question is a very powerful way to communicate that you care and validate their place in your life.

Our relationships are what we look back on when we evaluate our lives. I once heard from our beloved friend and mentor Rabbi Kalman Packouz, of blessed memory: “I have spent hundreds of hours with people who were dying, and no one ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ But I often hear, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with the people who loved me.”’

Please don’t let that be you.

Candle Lighting Times

(or go to

Jerusalem 7:13
Miami 7:58 - Guatemala 6:17 - Hong Kong 6:54
Honolulu 6:59 - Johannesburg 5:10 - Los Angeles 7:50
London 9:04 - Melbourne 4:54 - Mexico City 8:01
New York 8:12 - Singapore 6:56 - Toronto 8:44
Moscow 8:57

Quote of the Week

Those who make peaceful resolution impossible will make violent resolution inevitable.
— John F. Kennedy

In Loving Memory of

Sima bas Binyamin



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