Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9 )
Life is so much better when we get along peacefully with the people around us, and it is worth going out of our way to do so. This week's Torah portion recounts the death of Moses' brother, Aaron, and how much the people loved him and missed him when he died. The reason for this great affection was that Aaron was a pursuer of peace, meaning he would go out of his way to try to build and maintain peaceful relationships. We can learn from Aaron's great character trait and make the extra effort to be at peace with everyone we know.
In our story we meet a family who puts peace above principle.
"THE COLD WAR "
It's funny how things can snowball. Just like a small snowball gets bigger and bigger the more it rolls, the smallest problem can grow into something huge if you let it. And while snow might be last thing on anyone's mind this time of year, last winter, a little bit of snow almost turned into a big avalanche.
It had been a snowy winter, so I wasn't really surprised to wake up one morning and see another fresh six inches on the ground. Although the adults would sometimes grumble about how all the snow made it hard to get to work, and stores and stuff - we kids just loved it. This particular day, I was up and out of the house nice and early, shovel in hand to clear my share of the sidewalk in front of our attached two-family house. As usual, I did one half, and left over the other for Danny, the kid next door.
Shoveling was the only not-so-fun part of snowstorms, but when everyone pitched in, it wasn't so bad. When I came back out later that day to play, I was surprised to see that Danny still hadn't shoveled out his half, and instead was out in the yard romping in the snow like he didn't have a care in the world.
"Hey, Danny! You waiting for the snow on the sidewalk to melt by itself?" I called out in a friendly voice, and pointed to the sidewalk. We got along well, so I expected him get the hint, laugh, and pick up the shovel. Boy was I surprised when he threw back at me a look colder than the icicles hanging off the roof, and said, "So finish your job."
What in the world? It turned out that he wanted from now on that we should take turns doing the whole sidewalk, and of course the first turn was mine. He even claimed that I had agreed.
Now you have to understand that we had been doing it the same way for years - nothing had changed. He and I both knew he was just trying to be lazy and weasel out of his job, period. Despite the freezing temperature, I started burning up. The kid had a real nerve. I certainly wasn't going to shovel his side.
The truth is, it wasn't such a big sidewalk - the whole thing would have taken less than five minutes. But it was the principle of the thing. After a few more hot words, we gave each other the cold shoulder, and went our separate ways.
I started playing in the yard, which suddenly seemed very small and crowded, since instead of running around freely as usual, I made sure to stay in my 'territory' in my side of the yard, and Danny was doing the same thing. After a little while I just went back inside; it was boring playing alone. Usually Danny and I would team up to build snow forts, have sled races, or just hang out together in one of our houses and have hot chocolate. We could be doing it again if he would only wake up and see I was right. But he didn't, and I certainly wasn't going to come to him.
Back in the house I decided to work on my model rocket. I carefully took out all the parts and spread them out on the table. It would be a fun day after all. Then I discovered I had run out of glue. 'No problem,' I thought, 'I'll just run over to Danny and borrow...'
My heart sank. I couldn't borrow anything from him anymore, now that we were 'at war.' If I wanted more glue, I'd have to trudge all the way down to the hardware store in the snow! This dumb fight of ours was starting to have a pretty high price. But what could I do? I was right, and he was wrong...
I fought the wind and blowing snow, and finally got to the store. Thankfully it was open. Mr. Jacobs, the owner, seemed pretty surprised to see me. The store was empty, and I guess he hadn't seen too many customers on a day like that, so he struck up some light conversation.
"Hey peacemaker, what's new?" he called out.
'Hey, What? How could he possibly know...'
He saw my shocked look and explained. "Your name is Aaron, isn't it?"
"Well don't you know your namesake, Aaron in the Torah, was famous for bending over backwards to make peace with people? Anyway, how can I help you on this snowy day?"
Without knowing it, I think he already had. I blushed as I realized how differently I had been acting than my namesake. I quickly bought the glue, although I had the feeling I wasn't going to need it anymore, and rushed home. I had a plan and couldn't wait to put it in action.
I got to our block and peeked around the corner. Great! Danny was nowhere to be seen. I quickly made a snowball, rolled it along the ground, and watched it get bigger and bigger...from now on things were going to start 'snowballing' in a different direction. A half hour later, I put down the shovel I had been using next to the huge snowman I just built, rubbed my hands together, and looked at my handiwork with pride. I was cold, but it would be worth it. I was sure that Danny would now get my message.
I sat in my living room by the window and waited. Soon enough Danny came out, and I waited to see his reaction. At first he didn't see. Then his eyes widened and he started to laugh. I jumped outside and started to laugh with him. Just the three of us - Danny, me...and, next to the sidewalk that was now totally cleared off, the big snowman holding the shovel in one hand, and holding a sign in the other with the word 'PEACE?' written in big letters across the front.
We worked it all out, and Danny even apologized. I really felt like Aaron, my original namesake, as I saw how easily being willing swallow some stubborn pride, and shovel a little snow, not only cleared the sidewalk, but cleared the air.
Q. How did Aaron feel when he and Danny first started fighting about the sidewalk?
A. He felt like since he was right; he didn't have to do anything to help patch things up.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw that working to make peace is worthwhile even when the fight is not your fault.
Q. Was Aaron right to give in to Danny even though Danny was wrong? Why or why not?
A. Even though Aaron was right, the situation the fight created was very uncomfortable for him. He rightly estimated that it was worth paying the price of giving in on the principle of being right, to get back to a comfortable, normal relationship with the kid next door. This is called 'pursuing' peace, and is a good trait.
Q. If after all Aaron had done, Danny would have still prolonged the fight, should Aaron have then kept trying?
A. It depends on whether Danny was also really interested in working things out but just needed more convincing, in which case, it might well have been worth another try, since peace is such a valuable goal, or whether Danny was only trying to take advantage of Aaron's good will, in which case Aaron wouldn't accomplish anything positive by giving in anymore, and only encourage more bad behavior from Danny.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. May one intrude uninvited into the lives of others who are in conflict in order to help make peace between them?
A. In many cases one not only may, but should go out of one's way to get involved for the sake of peace. Sometimes a more objective third party can bring perspective into a conflict, and give the parties involved a less heated way to communicate amongst themselves. This is in fact what Aaron, in the Torah would often do. Of course, before butting in, he would be sure his help is needed, try to clearly understand the situation, and not get drawn into the argument.
Q. Is there any limit how much one must give in for the sake of peace?
A. There are many factors involved. In practical terms there is the question of how much the relationship in question is worth to you. For instance, being at peace with a sibling who you see every day is more urgent than being at peace with a clerk in a store you need never patronize. Also it is dependent on exactly how much and what one is being asked to give in. Some things, such as values, and personal safety, are -- and should be -- simply not negotiable. Still, the spiritual ideal is to be as flexible one reasonably can, and try to be at peace with all, and be willing to meet the other guy more than half way. This should be seen as an investment in maintaining peace just as one would invest in any other valuable commodity.