Elana Jackson
A friend of Torah MiTzion 
Currently head Nurse of SHEKEL – Inclusion for People with Disabilities

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Towards the end of Parshat Chukat the ceremony of Aaron HaCohen’s death is described.  After, the verse tells us that “When the whole congregation saw that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days” (Bamidbar 20:29). That is a unique expression, the ‘entire house’. By Moshe, in contrast, it says “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty day” (Dvarim 34:8).  So why did Aaron deserve the extra respect of being mourned by the entire house, which tends to include men and women? We know that according to the Rabbis, Moshe was the teacher of law and Aaron was just his helper to spread the teachings.  Remember, Aaron’s original job was to be Moshe’s spokesman when Moshe complained at the burning bush that he is slow of speech and tongue (Shmot 4:10-16). So why did Aaron deserve more honor then Moshe?

The Malbim gives the pshat (text based) answer. He connects Aaron’s death with the story following it, when the king of Arad wages war against the Jews and wins, even taking captives.  The Malbim claims that special clouds of glory which protected the Jewish people in the desert were in Aaron’s honor and thus they were removed when he died. Therefore Caananite kings were able to win wars against them, and their defeat in battle is what all the people were mourning. Not his death per se, but its consequence, which heavily affected all of the Jewish people. This is similar to the idea earlier in the Parsha which connects the death of Miriam to the loss of the well that traveled with the people, resulting in their complaining for water immediately following her demise. But according to Gemora Taanit (9), both Miriam’s gift of the well and Aaron’s gift of the clouds of glory ultimately returned in Moshe’s merit. So we are left with our original question!

Rashi gives a more midrashic (exegesis) answer. He expands on the idea from Pirkei Avot (1:12) that Aaron was known for pursuing peace, especially between feuding couples, and therefore he was loved by all. The Gur Aryeh explains that Aaron understood that to help couples reconcile it was necessary to talk to each member individually according to each ones’ gender, and that is how he was so successful at making peace. Moshe, on the other hand, spoke to men and women the same and therefore there was one universal act of crying for him as opposed to the different types of crying by men and by women for Aaron.

It is truly amazing that this famous trait of Aaron’s is learned out from just two words describing an event after his death!  Maybe this is a lesson for us that mankind has a tendency not to really appreciate someone until they are gone. Hopefully we can continue to follow the words of Hillel in Pirkei Avot and learn to be more like Aaron, spreading peace and looking for the good in all the people around us, even those whose looks or behaviors might be different from our own.    

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