In this week’s parsha we read of the changeover of generations. Miriam and Aharon die in the desert, and this signifies the end of the entire generation that left Egypt. In the Torah’s description of Aharon’s death, we read of the national mourning at his passing:
“And Moshe did as Hashem had commanded him, and they ascended Hor ha-Har before the eyes of the entire congregation. And Moshe removed Aharon’s priestly garments and placed them upon Elazar his son. And Aharon died there, at the top of the mountain, and Moshe and Elazar descended from the mountain. And all of the congregation saw that Aharon had perished, and they mourned for Aharon for thirty days – all of the house of Israel.” (Bamidbar, chapter 20)
The expression, “All of the house of Israel” emphasizes the scope of the community of mourners: it encompassed the entire nation. The various midrashim take note of this and provide several explanations for this special emphasis. In the Tractate Avot de-Rabbi Natan (chapter 25) we find the following insight:
“Why is it that for Aharon all of Israelmourned, while for Moshe only some mourned? It is because Moshe was a judge. It is impossible for a judge to issue a verdict that acquits both parties; he must acquit the innocent and sentence the guilty. Aharon, (in contrast,) was not a judge, but rather would (go about) making peace between people. Therefore all of Israelmourned for him, while Moshe was mourned only by some.”
According to this midrash, the difference in roles between Aharon and Moshe is the key to the difference in the scope of national mourning. Moshe the judge was not in a position to appease both sides to a dispute; judging in favor of one party will always entail some degree of anguish to the other. But this is the function of a judge: he must apply Divine truth. Aharon, on the other hand, whose role – so it seems – was to make peace between people, was able to appease both sides to a dispute in a peaceful accord.
There can be no doubt as to the many superlative qualities of Moshe and of his function as supreme judge, teaching Hashem’s word and its application in every aspect of everyday life. But the midrash here raises Aharon to an even higher level: even if Aharon’s actions were not always in complete accord with absolute truth (as the decisions of a judge must be), the outcome of producing peace is ultimately the most desirable one.
Each one of us, in his/her interaction with others, behaves sometimes as Moshe and sometimes as Aharon. Sometimes we judge other people, while at other times we seek a way to maintain peace with them. The midrash may be teaching us something beyond an interpretation of the verse: it may also offer us guidance as to how to behave in our everyday interactions – as Aharon, rather than as Moshe.