Why did Aaron die before Moshe? (for Korach and Chukat)

In Korach, Aaron's staff flowers, in Chukat he and Moshe both sin, so why is he punished first? Why didh't he also beg to enter the Land?

Danny Ginsbourg‏ ,

Aaron's Tomb on Jebel Haroun in Jordan
Aaron's Tomb on Jebel Haroun in Jordan
Yaakov Naumi/Flash90

We read in Parashaat Korach:(16:17-25)’ that "Hashem spoke to Moshe; Take twelve staffs, one staff for each tribe; each leader’s name inscribe on his staff; and the name of Aaron inscribe on the staff of Levi; lay them in the Tent of Assembly; the man whom I shall choose- his staff will blossom.

‘On the next day, Moses came to the Tent of Assembly, and behold! The staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a blossom, sprouted a bud, and almonds ripened’.

Rav Chaim Chernowitz asks:’Why was it necessary to write Aaron’s name on the staff? Everyone knew it was the staff of the leader of the tribe of Levi?’.

He answers:’The bud sprouted ON his name, on the staff, to teach that, as well as the tribe of Levi having been chosen by Hashem, Aaron himself was chosen to be the Cohen Gadol’.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch asks:’Why was the almond tree, and not some other tree, chosen to prove that the tribe of Levi was worthy to serve Hashem?’

He answers::’The almond tree precedes all other trees in producing its fruit.

"Its name שקידה alludes to its special ‘diligence, כביכול; whilst all the other trees עוד נמלכים בדעתם: still ‘considering’ their course of action, it is already fulfilling its ‘destiny’, and producing its fruit.

"This is the very attribute for which the tribe of Levi was chosen! They alone responded to Moshe’s cry, after the sin of the Golden Calf:’Who is for Hashem, come to me!’.

"This spirit passed as an inheritance, to Aaron, and the entire tribe of Leviim."

Rav Shlomo Zalman Kook, the father of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, הראי׳ה, brings a beautiful insight as to why Hashem chose the almond tree, to ‘settle’ the dispute which had started with Korach:

"Our Sages teach that there are two types of almonds: one is sweet at the beginning, but, later, turns bitter; the second, is bitter at first, but, when it ripens, becomes sweet."

"Korach clearly felt ‘good’-a ‘sweetness’-when he railed against Moshe and Aaron- but how bitter was his fate.

"Aaron, on the other hand, did not respond to any of the taunts of Korach- to our mind, a bitter pill to swallow.

"Yet, at the end, how ‘sweet’ was his reward- he merited that Hashem ‘chose’ him, and this, by the staff that, appropriately, flowered, and produced almonds!".

A parting thought, from Rav Yehuda Leib Chasman:’That a staff of wood could flower and ‘grow’ almonds, was clearly a great miracle!

‘Yet, each and every-day, in all parts of the world, countless trees blossom and produce fruit.

‘Is this any less a miracle than Aaron’s staff? Does it not proclaim, as did Aaron’s flowering staff, Hashem’s never ending miracles?

‘Why, then, do we not proclaim:’How wondrous are Your deeds, Hashem’?’

Answers the Rav: "Just as when we close our eyes, we cannot see what is before us, so too, when we close our ‘mind’s eye’, we cease to ‘see’ the countless wonders of Hashem!".

So why did Aaron die before Moshe?’

We read in Parashat Chukat (20:23-26)’ "And Hashem said to Moshe..Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel, because you have defied My word at the waters of strife;..Aaron died there on the top of the mountain’.

Earlier in Chukat we read (20:12):’Hashem said to Moshe AND Aaron:’’Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this Congregation to the Land that I have given them’.

The parshanim ask:Since the decree was against BOTH Moshe and Aaron, why was death decreed for Aaron before Moshe? Especially since Moshe was the one who struck the rock, whilst Aaron ‘only’ abstained from speaking to the rock, as both he and Moshe had been commanded to do!

The Abarbanel advances seven (!) ‘answers’, among them:That, since the decree was that they not enter the Land- not that they die-Hashem decreed that the three holy siblings, Miriam, Aaron and Moshe, die in the order of their births- Miriam first, then Aaron, and finally Moshe, which is the ‘natural order’.

Second, had Moshe and Aaron died at the same time, there would be no-one of a standing ‘appropriate’ to their קדושה, to bury them; now, since Aaron pre-deceased Moshe, Moshe could perform this final חסד של אמת for his brother; and, in due course, Hashem Himself would be engaged in the burial of His most faithful servant, Moshe Rabenu.

Third, while Aaron had no further tasks to perform in this world, Moshe, as the leader of the people, still had to lead them to victory against Sichon, Ogg and Midian.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin proffers a different answer:’Had Moshe died at the same time as Aaron, the people would have been totally ‘lost’ in the desert, without Manna, without water, and without the protection of the Clouds of Honor- two of the three having only returned in the merit of Moshe Rabenu.

"They would then be likely to seek to return to Egypt, and be forever lost! Indeed, they sought to do so, after the death of Aaron, when they saw that the Clouds of Honor, which had protected them against their enemies, had dissipated; and their return to Egypt was only prevented (see Rashi to 26:13), by the Leviim pursuing them, and forcing them to return, after a battle.

"Had Moshe Rabenu died at the same time as Aaron, the Leviim, by themselves, would not have been able to prevent their return to Egypt."

Further, concludes the Rav: "Moshe Rabenu prayed incessantly to Hashem, from the time that the decree was pronounced (Va’etchanan 3:25):’Let me enter the Land, and see the GOOD Land’- and the second part of his prayer was granted(3:27), and Hashem said:’Ascend to the top of the cliff ..and see with your eyes’ all of the Land-and for this reason, he was permitted to live until they reached the edge of the Land’.

And, by so doing, Moshe instilled in all the future generations of our people the yearning to ‘see the Good Land’- and in the merit of this yearning, and the countless prayers to do so, WE merited to enter, and dwell in the GOOD Land!

A parting thought: Why did Aaron not pray to be permitted to enter the Land, as did his brother, Moshe?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the Gemara (Sotah 14.), that teaches that Moshe Rabenu wanted to enter the Land, so that he could perform the מצוות התלויות בארץ, which can only be performed in the Land.

These Mitzvot all involve ‘giving’- and, as Aaron, as a Kohen, would be the recipient of these gifts, he did not deem it ‘appropriate’ to seek to enter the Land, as this might suggest that he sought to do so, for material benefit.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.



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