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One of the lessons that we can certainly take with us from the passing of Miriam and Aaron is to appreciate those in our lives before they’re gone.

This week’s Torah portion is Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1). The reading opens up with the very mysterious and intriguing purification ceremony involving a red young cow, known as a “heifer” and referred to in the Torah as the “Para Aduma”. According to Jewish law as it was practiced in Temple times, a person who comes into contact with the dead becomes spiritually impure. Purification was only achieved through the sprinkling of the ashes of a Para Aduma. The Para Aduma had to be red, without blemish, and never used for manual labor – a very difficult combination to come across! I guess you can truly say that the Para Aduma is a “Holy Cow”!

This week’s Torah portion also includes the death of Miriam and Aaron, the sister and brother of Moses respectively. Both Miriam and Aaron contributed tremendously to the welfare of the Jewish people and were sorely missed.

Miriam was a prophetess and a leader in her own right. We are taught that it was due only to Miriam that Moses was even born. This is because when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile, many husbands separated form their wives in order not to bring further children into the world. Among them was Amram, the father of Miriam and Aaron, who separated from their mother Yocheved. Miriam protested her father’s actions and made him realize that his ‘decree’ was worse than Pharaoh’s! This is because pharaoh was determined to kill only the boys, but by separating from their mother, explained Miriam, Amram was also preventing girls from being born and given life! Amram and Yocheved realized the error of their ways, reunited, and Moses was born! Additionally, we are taught that the well that accompanied the Jews in the desert and provided them with fresh drinking water was given to them in Miriam’s merit. When Miriam died the well ceased. As we will see in future Torah portions -– water didn’t come so easy anymore.

The death of Aaron was also devastating to the Jewish people. Aaron earned for himself what might just be the most coveted place in the annals of Jewish history. So deeply loved by one and all during his life, he was mourned, even more than Moses, upon his death. The reason for Aaron’s popularity was due to his insatiable search for peace. He sought out the well-being of all people and brought peace between enemies. He was a friend to everyone and a frequent guest in everyone’s home.

When Aaron became aware that two people were in a fight he would get involved in the attempts to put an end to it. What would he do? He would go to one of the parties and tell them that the other party regrets what had taken place and would like to apologize for what had transpired. Aaron would then go to the other party with the exact same made-up script. When the two parties saw each other next – each armed with the “information” that Aaron had shared with them – they would talk through their differences and peace was restored.

One of the lessons that we can certainly take with us from the passing of Miriam and Aaron is to appreciate those in our lives before they’re gone. Nobody’s perfect – Moses sinned when he hit the rock, Miriam sinned when she spoke against Moses, and Aaron sinned in his role in the Golden Calf. Nevertheless, we must learn to appreciate the individuality of all who are close to us and to recognize the contribution they make to our lives. Before it’s too late!

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!