Rabbi YY Jacobson
Rabbi YY JacobsonIsrael National News

Why Aaron?

The Torah never mentions the yartzeit—the day of the passing—of any of its protagonists. We do not know the day when Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, or Rachel passed away. Even Moses’ day of passing is omitted in the Torah.[1]

There is one single exception: Aaron, the older brother of Moses and the High Priest of Israel. His death is recorded in the weekly portion with a date:

מסעי לג, לח: וַיַּעַל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אֶל־הֹר הָהָר עַל־פִּי ה' וַיָּמׇת שָׁם בִּשְׁנַת הָאַרְבָּעִים לְצֵאת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ׃

Numbers 33:38: Aaron the priest ascended Mount Hor, at the behest of G-d, and died there, in the fortieth year after the Israelites had left the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month.

Why Aaron? Even with his own siblings, Miriam and Moses, we don’t see in the Torah the date of their passing. Why was his passing day enshrined in the biblical text?

What is more, the date of his death is not mentioned in the actual story of his passing (back in Chukas, Numbers ch. 20), where it would seem to belong, but rather in the portion of Massei (Numbers ch. 33), while discussing the forty-two journeys that the Israelites traveled in the desert—en route from Egypt to the Promised Land. It in this context, apparently not relevant to the discussion, that the Torah takes a detour:[2] "They journeyed from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, at the edge of the land of Edom. Aaron the High Priest ascended Mount Hor at G-d's behest and died there…”

The Peacemaker

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once offered a moving insight, demonstrating the eternal relevance of Torah.[3]

Aaron, we know, was the ultimate peace lover and peacemaker among the Jewish people. As Hillel says in the Ethics of the Fathers:[4] “Be of the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.” Aaron dedicated his life to bringing peace between rivals and quarreling spouses.[5]

When the Torah describes his death, it states:[6] The whole congregation saw that Aaron had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days.

Why the “entire house of Israel”? When Moses passes away, the Torah states[7] that the “sons of Israel wept for Moses”; but here it was the “entire house.” Why the distinction? Rashi explains: “Both the men and the women, for Aaron had pursued peace; he promoted love between disputing parties and between husbands and wives.”

The Talmud relates[8] that 80,000 young men who were all given the name “Aaron” came to eulogize Aaron after his passing. They were the children born from parents who wanted to get divorced, and Aaron saved their marriages. They named their babies Aaron, in tribute to the person who saved their marriage and allowed these children to be born.

This means that over forty years in the wilderness, Aaron restored peace and trust to 80,000 Jewish couples. He must have been a busy marriage therapist!

His efforts were rewarded in kind, with the appearance of Clouds of Glory that served as a unifying force, molding the entire Israelite encampment into a cohesive unit.

The Remedy

Now, we can understand, on a homiletical level, why the yartzeit of Aaron is specified in the Torah——on the first day of the fifth month of the year, which is the Hebrew month of Av.

1500 years after the death of Aaron, the first of Av would usher in a period known in Jewish law as the “Nine Days,” referring to the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av, a time dedicated to mourning the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, which were both burned down on the 9th day of AV (the first by Babylon in 586 BCE, the second by Rome in 70 CE).

The Talmud states:[9] “The second Temple, why was it destroyed? Because the Jews harbored baseless hatred towards each other." This was also true on a political level: The Romans exploited the in-fighting between the Jewish people to defeat Judea.

During the first Temple era, too, it was the ongoing conflicts between the two kingdoms of Israel that weakened the nation, and the violence among Jews which spelled disaster, as the prophets explicitly warn.

“G-d provides the remedy before the disease,” says the Talmud.[10] Before any challenge in life, G-d provides the energy to deal with it. The yartzeit of a person, the day when their life-journey is completed, is a day in which their energy and light is manifest in a uniquely potent way in the world.[11] So on the first day of Av, when we usher in the Nine Days of grief over our discord and hatred, the Torah tells us we have the yartzeit of Aaron the great peacemaker and unifier—a day in which can connect with Aaron’s energy and legacy of love and unity, to repair and heal the rifts and mistrust that caused our exile, and usher in a new era of redemptive consciousness.

That is why the Torah places the day of the yartzeit in the portion of Maasei, which according to Jewish tradition is always read on or right before the very day of his yartzeit—the first day (Rosh Chodesh) of the month Av. It is during this time of the year that the Torah wants to empower us with the energy of Aaron to restore cohesion, trust, and love among our people.

On every first day of Av, as one can smell the flames of destruction, Aaron casts upon us his power of love, reminding us that we are capable of transcending our fears and our egos, and creating a revolution of love among our eternal but fragmented people. If baseless hatred was the cause of our destruction, baseless love will create our redemption.

A Healthy Heart

A story:[12]

Moshe Tzur, an Israeli Air Force veteran, who has a skill for activism and leadership, returned to Judaism later in his life, and at a visit to the US in the 1970s he visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him what he was doing to help the Jewish people and the community. Moshe was not that excited about getting involved.

The Rebbe asked him, “Why is the heart of the human being on the left side? Everything important in Judaism is on the right side. We put on tefillin with the right hand, we put the mezuzah on the right side of the door, we shake hands with the right hand, we hold the Torah scroll on our right side, Joseph wanted the blessing of the right arm of his father for his oldest son; in the Temple they always walked to the right, so why is the heart—the organ responsible giving us vitality—on the left?”

The Rebbe shared his vintage answer:

“Your heart is indeed on your right side! Because what is the true function of a heart? To feel and experience the heart of the person standing in front of you; and for the person in front of you, your heart is on the right side. When your heart is linked with others, then indeed your heart is on the “right” side.

Moshe continued to relate his story:

“This message really spoke to me, and I adopted it as the center of my philosophy of life. Since then, my mission in life has been to reach the heart of every Jew that I meet. I returned to Israel, and I established two important yeshivot. One yeshiva is called Aish HaTalmud; it is a yeshiva high school with almost two hundred boys enrolled. The other is called Torat Moshe, with about ninety-five boys. I have also established four kollelim, study groups for married men, with almost a hundred-twenty enrolled.”

“In addition, I founded an organization to support poor families for Rosh Hashanah and Passover. These are people who don’t have much income, and we help them with food and money. All this because of the words of the Rebbe – that the key is to help others – which changed my perspective on life and shaped my life’s mission.”


[1] The Talmud and the Midrash deduce from the verses which dates they passed on, but it is not explicit in the Torah.

[2] Numbers 33:37-38

[3] Sichas 29 Tamuz, 5735 (1975). Sichas Motzei Shabbos Matos-Maasei 5739 (1979). Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 18 Matos-Maasei pp. 411-412. A similar idea I saw in Sefas Emes Maasei 5659.

[4] 1:12

[5] Avos chapter 1. Avod D’Rabi Nosson ch. 12

[6] Numbers 20:29. See also Rashi Rashi Devarim 34:8.

[7] Deuteronomy 34:8

[8] Tractate Kallah ch. 3

[9] Yuma 9b

[10] Megilah 13b

[11] See Tanya Igeres Hakodesh ch. 27-28