“And the people saw that Aharon had died and they cried about Aharon for thirty days, the whole House of Israel.”(Bamidbar 20:29). Rashi says that both the men and women mourned Aharon because he pursued peace between those involved in argument and between man and wife. This is how the Torah describes, in this week’s parsha, the end of an era. Aharon Hakohen, the older brother of Moshe Rabeinu, the Kohen Godol for forty years, was no longer.
The juxtaposition of Parshas Korach which detailed Korach’s rebellion against Moshe and Aharon and Parshas Chukas which reports the death of Aharon who happily served as his younger brother’s second in command for forty years without a murmur suggests to us the following question; why was Korach jealous but Aharon not? Korach was no spiritual lightweight but couldn’t overcome his unhappiness at being overlooked; Aharon seemed to be quite happy at taking second place to his younger brother. What caused the different attitudes between Korach and Aharon and what can we learn from it?
After Korach’s demise, Hashem wanted to prevent similar mistakes in the future. The people needed a permanent reminder that it was His choice that Aharon should be the Kohen Godol. He told Moshe Rabeinu to take a staff from the prince of each tribe, with his name on it and on the staff representing the tribe of Levi, the name of Aharon was written. The staffs were all put in the Ohel Moed and left there overnight. As we know, by the morning, Aharon’s staff out of all the staffs had miraculously blossomed, proving that he was Hashem’s choice. Everybody saw and accepted it. But we would also like to know why Aharon had been chosen. Which special characteristic made him worthy of being chosen. Does anything in this episode give us a clue to Aharon’s special quality? . Does the choice of almond blossom give any hint?
In Hallel we read,”Let all the nations praise Hashem…because of His kindness to us…Praise Hashem that He is good, His kindness is forever. Let Israel say, His kindness is forever. Let the House of Aharon say, His kindness is forever, Let those who fear Hashem say, His kindness is forever.” (Tehillim 117-118) The order is meaningful. The more we have benefited from Hashem’s kindness, the more we are obligated to thank Hashem. Firstly all the nations, every human being who benefits from Hashem’s kindness — Hashem provides him with food and so on, have to praise Hashem. Then Israel, to whom Hashem, in addition to the basic requirements for life, has given the Torah and mitzvos, must thank Hashem more deeply. Even greater is the obligation of the Beis Aharon who have a special role in the Beis Hamikdash, to thank Hashem for their special gift. But what does the final line refer to? Who are the yirei Hashem? How does this final line fit into the order of the pesukim? In what sense do those who fear Hashem have the greatest obligation to thank Him?
One of the most inspiring non-Jewish speakers of the twentieth century was the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King. In one of his greatest speeches, he said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep the streets even as Michaelangelo painted, as Beethoven composed music or as Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Why am I bringing the words of a non-Jew into this Torah article?
There are a number of reasons not to be jealous of somebody else even though that person seems to be more successful financially, has a more senior job or just seems to have more blessings. The simplest reason is that we often don’t know about his challenges, his difficulties or his worries. If we knew them we would never want to be in his or her situation. Moshe Rabeinu’s position was far from being “a bed of roses.” Medrashim tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu came out of his tent early, some people said that he must have problems in sholom bayis. When he came out late, some people said that he was busy making plans against the people. When he walked along, people looked at his healthy body and said that his physical health is as a result of all the money which we’re paying him. (Rashi Kiddushin 33b). Moshe Rabeinu himself said, “Soon they are going to stone me.”(Shemos 17:4 ). Who could be jealous of his job? Aharon’s position was also fraught with danger. One mistake in the Kodesh Hakodoshim could be fatal.
A second possible reason not to be jealous of another is humility. “I haven’t got the qualities necessary for that more important job.” This may have been what Aharon was thinking when he accepted Moshe Rabeinu’s appointment as leader with such equanimity.
But there is a third possible reason for Aharon’s lack of jealousy. When the posuk (Bamidbar 17:23) tells us that Aharon’s staff blossomed, the phrase is introduced by the word hinei. Rashi (Ibid 18:8) says that hinei implies simcha. As the pasuk says, “Behold he (Aharon) is coming out to greet you (Moshe) and he will see you and there is simcha in his heart. We usually interpret the pasuk to mean simply that Aharon will be very happy that you have been appointed leader of Klal Yisroel. But there is another possible interpretation, a deeper reason for a person to avoid jealousy. If a person is completely satisfied, fulfilled and b’simcha with his present role, there is no room in his mind for jealousy. Aharon had that simcha in his present role so he was not jealous of Moshe. The almond is a symbol of speed. It represents simcha because someone who is happy with what he is doing will do it with alacrity. (Kli Yakar). Aharon had plenty to do making peace between married couples and other quarrellers. He was already doing a great service to Klal Yisroel. Nothing was missing from his life. In these circumstances he could not be jealous.
Korach was the richest man in Klal Yisroel (Pesachim 119a). He could have opened a charity organisation to provide all Jews with basic needs; to lend to rich and poor; to provide donkeys to help with transporting the physically challenged. The list is endless. He should have been overjoyed to be fulfilling this vital communal need. But he looked outside of himself and yearned to take on another person’s job instead., He saw only the pluses and not the minuses and he was jealous; a bitter jealousy which caused his downfall.
Every one of us is unique. Every one of us has a vital role to play in Hashem’s world. Even if we are not from the Beis Aharon we can be among the Yirei Hashem who do our unique job to the best of our ability. In Hashem’s orchestra the violins, the trumpets, the cymbals – even the triangle – are all needed. Even a street cleaner can rejoice with fulfilling his vital role, as Martin Luther King eloquently proclaimed. Hashem’s front- line troops, those who serve Hashem despite their personal challenges, and lower-ranked soldiers without special difficulties can all rejoice if they fulfill their divinely appointed role successfully. Like Aharon we can all have simcha in our heart; not only for ourselves but when we see others succeed.