Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aharon's Legacy

When one thinks about Aharon Hakohen the image of a priest comes to mind. The most important thing about Aharon was his role as Kohen Gadol. However, what WAS the role of the Kohen Gadol? Was his main purpose to be the connecting force between man and G-D? Or was there a different reason for the Kohen Gadol?

If we look at this week's Parsha I think we can understand what Aharon's true role was among the Jewish people. At the end of Chapter 20 of Bamidbar, we see that Aharon dies and leaves over his high priest garments to his son, Eleazar:

כח וַיַּפְשֵׁט מֹשֶׁה אֶת-אַהֲרֹן אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֶת-אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ, וַיָּמָת אַהֲרֹן שָׁם, בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר; וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר, מִן-הָהָר. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.

כט וַיִּרְאוּ, כָּל-הָעֵדָה, כִּי גָוַע, אַהֲרֹן; וַיִּבְכּוּ אֶת-אַהֲרֹן שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם, כֹּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ס} 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel. {S}

However, at the beginning of Chapter 21 the Torah throws in a quick little story that is three verses long:

א וַיִּשְׁמַע הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ-עֲרָד, יֹשֵׁב הַנֶּגֶב, כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל, דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים; וַיִּלָּחֶם, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּשְׁבְּ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁבִי. 1 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took a captive.

ב וַיִּדַּר יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶדֶר לַיהוָה, וַיֹּאמַר: אִם-נָתֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּיָדִי--וְהַחֲרַמְתִּי, אֶת-עָרֵיהֶם. 2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will destroy their cities.'

ג וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה בְּקוֹל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי, וַיַּחֲרֵם אֶתְהֶם, וְאֶת-עָרֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם, חָרְמָה. {פ} 3 And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they destroyed them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah. {P}

What is the point of this story? Did Arad really have a battle with Israel that ended with only a single captive? Also, why did the Jewish people vow that they would destroy Arad's cities if only G-D would let them defeat them? Why was this such an important fight for the Jewish people? According to Rashi this captive was not even a full fledged Jew, but a slavewoman.

Rashi tells us that the reason Arad attacked at this point was because he heard that Aharon had died and that the protective cloud over the Jewish people disappeared. Arad was not foolish enough to have a war with the Jewish people that would end in disaster for him and his people. He figured that the best course of action was to demoralize the Jewish people. How? Kidnap someone and hope the Jewish people lost their desire to protect each other.

Why would Arad have thought the Jewish people would not care about someone being kidnapped or just allow it to happen? Aharon had died and HE was the glue that held the Jewish people together.

"The rabbis are still more emphatic in their praise of Aaron's virtues. Thus Hillel, who in Herod's time saw before him mainly a degenerate class of priests, selfish and quarrelsome, held Aaron of old up as a mirror, saying: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!" (Abot, i. 12). This is further illustrated by the tradition preserved in Abot deR. N. xii. Sanh. 6b, and elsewhere, according to which Aaron was an ideal priest of the people, far more beloved for his kindly ways than was Moses. While Moses was stern and uncompromising, brooking no wrong, Aaron went about as peacemaker, reconciling man and wife when he saw them estranged, or a man with his neighbor when they quarreled, and winning evil-doers back into the right way by his friendly intercourse. The mourning of the people at Aaron's death was greater, therefore, than at that of Moses; for whereas, when Aaron died the whole house of Israel wept, including the women (Num. xx. 29),"
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He was the peacemaker, he was the one that kept the nation together with love. Without Aharon, Arad was hoping, that the Jews would fall apart and not care for one another.

This was a huge mistake. The Jewish people not only stayed together because of the lesson's learned from Aharon about loving each other, but they even cared about a slavewoman. They would not be demoralized, rather they would use this aggression against them to completely conquer Arad and his kingdom.

This is the point of the Kohen Gadol, to be the glue that keeps the nation together. This is, probably, why the Kohen Gadol is held "responsible" when someone is killed by accident. The Kohen Gadol should have imparted a greater concern for others in the man that killed by accident. Aharon's lesson to the Jewish people is simple: Care for your fellow and stay united.

This teaching of Aharon has been strong in the Jewish community for centuries. How many times have we heard of Jews saving other Jews from harm. Jews in Spain redeeming Jews that were captured and sold. Jews airlifting other Jews out of Africa to bring them back to Israel. This is the most important trait that has been engraved in the Jewish people, caring for one another. Without Aharon's legacy the Jewish people would have truly fallen apart without the unity between different groups of Jews when it was truly needed.

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