Chukat (Diaspora): Grief for Aaron

Why was there greater grief for the passing of Aaron than there was for the passing of Moses? The Chief Rabbi explains.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Judaism יד לספר תורה. ארכיון
יד לספר תורה. ארכיון

In this week’s Parasha of Chukat, we read about the sad passing of Aharon, Cohen Gadol – Aharon the High Priest. We are told vayivku oto shloshim yom kol Beit Yisrael – the entire house of Israel wept for him for 30 days.

In the last chapter of the Torah, we are told of the passing of Aharon’s brother Moshe. There as well, the people wept for him for 30 days, but we are not told, kol Beit Yisrael, the whole House of Israel. Obviously therefore, the level of the intensity of mourning was far deeper for Aharon than it was for Moshe.

Why is this the case? The sifrei explains that Moshe was a legal authority – he is somebody who had to sometimes disappoint people, come down on people, tell them off. And as a result he was not absolutely popular within every single circle. Aharon however, had a different attitude and outlook.

Hillel, in Pirkei Avot, tells us, Hevei MiTalmidav shel Aharon – we should be the disciples of Aharon, ohev shalom v’rodef shalom, we should love peace and pursue it. Ohev et habriot umerkarvan laTorah. We should love other people and bring them close to Torah.

Hillel’s message is that to bring people closer to Torah, when reproving them, when striving to enable them to improve their deeds, we should first show that we love them. Ohev et habriotcomes before mekarvan laTorah. When you are telling somebody off and they feel ‘Ah, they really hate me or gosh, there is envy, there is bitterness, there is a lot of jealousy’, then they will not take on board what you have to say.

When however they realise that what you are saying emerges from the affection you have for them, and that everything you are doing is in their interest, then they will be willing to listen and to actually activate what you are suggesting.

That was the way of Aharon. People knew that he loved them. And in fact Avot d’Rabbi Natan goes one step further and tells us that there were occasions when Aharon would offer reproof without actually opening his mouth.

Sometimes he would walk past an individual who was doing something inappropriate. Aharon would look disappointed, he would stay schtum, and he would walk on. And that person thought to himself or herself, he is such a lovely fellow, I have let him down, I will not let this happen again. I will improve my ways so that Aharon should be proud of me.

Indeed, let us adopt the lesson of Hillel, to always be like the students of Aharon, to love peace and pursue it and to bring people closer to Torah out of a love for those individuals. If we indeed achieve that, we will be able to change so many lives in a positive and wonderful way.