Friday, June 14, 2013

Voice of Judgment vs. Voice of Peace

Question of the Week, Parshat Chukat: 

In this week's parsha, Chukat (Numbers 19:1 - 22:1), Aaron the High Priest ascended Mount Hor, and died on the top of the mountain. The Israelites mourned his loss for 30 days. 

Similarly, when Moses died, the Israelites mourned his loss for 30 days. The language is nearly identical. What are the two minor differences between these two mournings that may not be so minor after all? 


In this parsah, when they mourned Aaron, the Torah states:  

וַיִּבְכּוּ אֶת-אַהֲרֹן שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם, כֹּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל

All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days.

(Numbers 20:29)

In contrast, when they mourned Moses (in the last psukim of the Torah), it states: 

וַיִּבְכּוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-מֹשֶׁה בְּעַרְבֹת מוֹאָב, שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם 

And the Israelites bewailed Moses in the steppes of Moab for thirty days.

(Deuteronomy 34:8)
Compare these two verses - can you see the two small differences? 

1. When they mourned Aaron, it was all the house of Israel, the entire nation. However, with regards to Moses, it was "Israelites" but not all Israel. 

2. When they mourned Aaron, it was the house of Israel, a unified entity. In contrast, when they bewailed Moses' loss, it was "the Israelites" - they remained many individuals. 

Moses, the voice of judgment, was respected – but Aaron the peacemaker who emphasized unity - was universally loved.

That is why the mishnah in tractate Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, instructs us to emulate Aaron:  

Hillel says: Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people, and bringing them closer to the Torah. (Pirkei Avot, 1:12)

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