death of aaron

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

Aaron was especially beloved by everyone, and his death was a particularly painful blow to the nation. Aaron was the person who personified love and peace – and worked hard to ensure it.

This week’s Torah portion is Chukat (Numbers 19:1 -22:1). Among the many moving events in this week’s reading is the death of Aaron, brother of Moses.

Aaron’s death took place while the Jewish people were wandering in the desert. The Torah implies that while Aaron was alive, the Canaanite king had been afraid to attack the Jewish people. All of a sudden, the Canaanite king “heard something” that made him want to attack the Jewish people.

What did he hear?

The Talmud explains that he heard that Aaron had died. When Aaron died, the clouds of glory that accompanied the Jewish people during their travels in the desert disappeared. The Canaanite king took the disappearance (removal, actually) as a message that the Jewish people lost some of their Divine protection and were now vulnerable to attack. And so he attacked.

What is the connection between the death of Aaron, the disappearance of the Clouds of Glory and the vulnerability of the Jewish people to attack?

Aaron was known as the rodef shalom, a person who seeks peace and does anything possible to make it happen. He preserved the peace among the Jewish people, and he even preserved the peace between husband and wife. Aaron was always able to convince enemies to make up and those who were wronged to forgive.

Death of Aaron Threatened Unity

Then Aaron died. And so did the peacemaker. As soon as Aaron was gone, arguments resumed, sides were taken and animosity was rampant.

When Jews fight with one another, when they can’t get along, when there is division between them: they are vulnerable to attack.

The world knows when there is infighting among the Jewish people, and they know how to take advantage. The key to our Divine protection lies in our unity!

Another important point of interest regarding the death of Aaron is that when he died, the Torah tells us, the entire House of Israel (implying men and women) mourned. But when Moses died, the Children of Israel (implying the men only) mourned.

Was Aaron more beloved to the Jewish people than Moses?

Both leaders were beloved to the Jewish people, but their roles were different. Just as we relate differently to the diverse people that we love, the Jewish people related differently to Moses than to Aaron.

Moses was the rabbi, the leader, the judge, the prophet. His job was to rebuke the Jewish people and ensure that they were on the right path. Let’s face it, Moses’s constant – albeit justified and necessary – rebuke was probably annoying to many.

Aaron, on the other hand, worked in a different “department.” He was the diplomat and peacemaker. He knew how to get along with everyone and never got in anyone’s way. He was everyone’s friend.

Moses’s death was certainly a major loss, but the death of Aaron was more “personal,” considering the relationships that he maintained.

There is much we can learn from Aaron, but let’s understand at least one important message: the strength in unity. Unfortunately, this has become a reality in recent days as the entire nation rallies together – in unity – to help our three kidnapped boys. From the most secular to the most ultra-orthodox, we are united in doing whatever we can to bring our boys home. Please God! Answer our prayer: Bring our boys home!

Go to the following links for more from Rabbi Enkin on Chukat:

Living Torah: Torah Study Time is Torah Study Time – Period!

Living Torah: Appreciating Greatness

LIVING TORAH: The World Needs More Miriams and Aarons