This week’s Torah portion is Shemini (Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47). Much of Shemini revolves around Aaron, the brother of Moses. As such, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a biography of this pivotal, albeit lesser-known, Torah figure.
As mentioned, Aaron was the older brother of Moses. Originally from the Levite tribe, Aaron and his descendants became the founders of a new tribe – the Kohanim (Priests), whose role and exact lineage continues to this day. Moses was a man who was “hard of speech” while Aaron was a most eloquent speaker. As such, the two essentially joined forces for the leadership of Israel, Moses was the prophet of God, while Aaron was his mouthpiece.
Aaron married Elisheva and had four children: Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar. Sadly, one of the events in this week’s Torah portion is the death of Nadav and Avihu. They were killed, by God, for having brought an unauthorized offering – something punishable by death. Thinking that their punishment was extreme, Moses comforted their father Aaron by explaining to him the supreme role that he and his descendants would play.
Perhaps the severe punishment of Nadav and Avihu could be compared to a common case in parenting. When a two-year-old throws his plate of food on the floor, the parents will get annoyed and maybe even yell at the child, but primarily, they will try to teach the child that throwing a plate of food on the floor is unacceptable. However, when a 12-year-old throws his plate of food on the floor, the parents will severely punish the child for having done so.
Parents expect much more from a 12-year-old than from a two-year-old. So it is with our leaders – the higher up you are on the spiritual totem pole, the more God expects of you. Aaron and his sons were on the highest levels. If you or I would have committed the transgression of Nadav and Avihu, God might have just slapped us on the wrist, so to speak. But when the supreme leaders of the nation do so — the punishment is much more severe. Although Moses didn’t explain the death of Nadav and Avihu they way I just did, he accepted Moses’ explanation and was comforted.
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 an attempt to put an end to it. What would he do? He would go to one of the parties and tell him 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.
Perhaps this is the legacy and inspiration we should take from Aaron. Peace between two people is fragile – but it is also precious. Let us use the example of Aaron in order to encourage peace, brotherhood and friendship among all people.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!