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News of Aharon’s Death

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

And the Canaanite king heard . . . and he waged war with Israel. (21:1)

When the Canaanite King heard the news, he decided that the time was auspicious for an attack on the Jewish people. What news did he hear? The Talmud tells us (Rosh Hashanah 3a) that he heard about the death of Aharon and the subsequent departure of the Clouds of Glory.

Why did Aharon’s death cause the Clouds of Glory to depart? Why did his death leave the Jewish people vulnerable to attack?

The Ateres Mordechai explains that Aharon was the glue that held the Jewish people together. The Mishneh states (Avos 1:12) that Aharon “loved peace and pursued it, loved people and brought them near to the Torah.” He reached out to people with a boundless, embracing love, and they could not help but respond.

Whenever Aharon saw a Jew doing something wrong, he did not respond with anger. He did not throw stones. He did not berate and criticize the transgressor. He greeted him with a smile, with an expansive “Good morning.” He asked how he was and beamed with genuine pleasure when the news was good. When they parted, the transgressor felt warmed by Aharon’s love. He felt good. And the next time he had the opportunity to sin, he held back. “How can I do such a thing?” he asked himself. “Aharon, who was so warm and loving to me, would be upset if I did such a thing. Perhaps I shouldn’t do it.” In this way, Aharon drew people to the Torah and inspired them to do teshuvah.

Mr. Harry Wolpert, a long-time supporter of Torah causes in Baltimore, had once been a student of Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibovitz, the Rosh Yeshivah of Kaminetz. When Mr. Wolpert came to Baltimore in the early 1900’s he faced the test of Sabbath observance time and again. Today, we don’t have such problems, baruch Hashem. Rare is the job or profession that presents an impediment to Sabbath observance today. But in those days, it was different. It was very common for an employer to say, “If you don’t come in to work on Saturday, don’t bother coming in Monday either.” What kept Mr. Wolpert from succumbing was the memory of Reb Baruch Ber’s tremendous love for each and every one of his students. Not his Torah. Not his Mussar. Just his love.

The Avos d’Rabbi Nassan observes that when Aharon died, “the entire House of Israel mourned” — both men and women. But when Moshe died, “the sons of Israel” — the men only — mourned.

Moshe loved the Jewish people with all his heart, but his role was teacher and judge. He had to show the people the way, to correct their errors, to issue uncompromising judgments. The people respected, admired, revered and loved him, but there was a certain inevitable distance in the relationship. But Aharon was all love, and the people responded with unreserved love of their own.

Aharon pursued peace. He was the epitome of peace and acceptance. When Moshe came to Egypt as the messenger of Hashem, Aharon did not have the slightest fleeting touch of jealousy. His joy was genuine. He was at peace with the situation, with his brother, with everyone else in the world.

He also did everything in his power to spread peace among other people. When he knew of two people that were quarreling, he would approach one and say, “I know that the other fellow wants to make up with you, but he’s just too embarrassed to come to you. If you are willing to make up with him, I’ll be happy to serve as the go-between.” The person undoubtedly accepted the offer of the illustrious Aharon. Then he went and told the same thing to the other fellow, and that was it. Peace!

The Yalkut Shimoni states that Hashem was reluctant, so to speak, to tell Aharon directly that it was time for him to die. Rav Meir Bergman, in Shaarei Orah, points out that nowhere do we find that Hashem was reluctant to tell Moshe that his time had come. Rav Bergman suggests that it was Aharon’s merit of spreading throughout among the Jewish nation that gave him this special status.

But now, concludes the Ateres Mordechai, this great pursuer and paragon of peace passed away. The harmony among the Jewish people began to fray. Spats and disputes erupted here and there. People began to fight. There was suddenly machlokes again among the people. The Clouds of Glory departed, and the Jewish people became vulnerable to attack.

The Ateres Mordechai further connects this idea with the verse in Sefer Bereishis (12:6), “There was a quarrel between Avram’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds, and the Canaanites were in the land at the time.”

For what purpose does the Torah tell us that the “Canaanites were in the land at the time”? As long as there was peace between the shepherds of Avram and Lot, their unity protected them against the Canaanite foe. But as soon as the quarrels broke out, the Canaanites appeared in the land, just as they later would arrive as soon as Aharon died.

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