CHOOSING G-D’S CHOICE
There is a strange scene in this week’s parasha that we must not overlook. G-d assigned Moshe a difficult job – to be the one to tell his older brother, Aharon, that on that very day he was to die and not enter theLandofCanaan. Understandably, Moshe had a hard time coming to terms with this. So, the last day that Aharon was to spend among the living, Moshe behaved toward him in a peculiar fashion. Aharon noticed this, and he said to his younger brother: Moshe, tell me. What do you need from me? Moshe responded – “Could it be that G-d entrusted something to you, (a soul) and now He wants it back?” Aharon answered that all the utensils of the Mishkan were still intact, and nothing was missing. This went on for a quite a while without Aharon having a clue as to what Moshe was hinting at, until Moshe finally asked Aharon to ascend the mountain Hor HaHar, together with his son Elazar… Moshe finally asked Aharon, “If G-d would tell you to die in a hundred years from now, would you accept what He said? Aharon answered, “Tzaddik Hadayan” – the Judge is all-Righteous, and I have faith in Him and would accept! Then Moshe asked Aharon- And if G-d were to ask you to die today, would you accept willingly? Aharon answered in the affirmative. Moshe then said, “Follow me to the top of the mountain, for that is precisely what G-d asked me to tell you!”
Aharon walked behind Moshe like a sheep going to slaughter. G-d then said to the Angels – At the Akeidat Yitzchak, you stood in shock as you stood by and watched. Come, now, and see how the older brother is walking behind his younger brother to accept death upon himself.(Midrash Yilmedenu)
The Sifri in Haazinu(and Rashi here) describes Aharon’s last few minutes in detail. Moshe told Aharon, “Enter the cave.” Aharon entered. Get up onto the bed. And Aharon did. Stretch out your hands, stretch out your arms, close your mouth, close your eyes…Aharon obeyed every direction he was given. At that moment, Moshe said, “Fortunate is the man who has such a death.” Moshe, too, wanted to die in such a way, and G-d granted him his wish.
R’ Chechik, zt”l, asks two very obvious questions in relation to this. How can we understand the comparison that G-d makes between the self sacrifice of our Forefather Yitzchak, at the age 38 on the Altar, to Aharon’s acceptance of death at the age of 123? And what exactly did Moshe mean, asking to die like his older brother?
The answer here is powerful and applicable to every turn we take in life. When Aharon chose to obey the will of G-d, accepting G-d’s will that he die, that acceptance was no less significant in the eyes of G-d than Yitschak’s stretching out his neck under his father’s knife .
There are things in life that G-d chooses for us. It is for us to choose if His choice is what we (think we) want, or if we do not want what G-d has chosen for us. When we pick option two, we are in for misery. The moment we feel with the greatest clarity that our choice is being taken away from us is in the face of death. This may be why subconsciously people are so afraid of death. For in the grave, there is no choice. It’s “game over.” When Aharon faced death, he accepted it. No complaints. This is called choosing what is. This is a great level for a human to achieve. When G-d chooses things that may not be our preference, like death, or any other situation in life where G-d puts up a road block for us, if we can choose to recognize that the decision G-d has made is good, and that this is what I want to happen, then G-d will accord us the credit He accorded Yitzchak on the Altar. Although Yitzchak was a mere 38 years old, his willingness and passion to accept G-d’s decree for his self sacrifice was in some way equal to that of someone at the age 123, and in his last breaths, he says, G-d if you want me to die, I want it, too. As much as we may not think so, our job, income, family, health, can change from one day to the next. Suddenly, a family member may be gone. We must accept this, if G-d chose it, and we cannot do anything about it. It is the best for the deceased, and, somehow, the best for us. Because that is what G-d chose.
Of course, when someone is sick, he must not choose to stay sick. The Torah shows us that one should make every possible effort to attain a cure (ורפא ירפא). If one is fired from a job, he should not choose to stay out of a job. But he should choose to recognize that the place where he was working must not have been the right place for him. The place for his success, financially, ethically or in growing as a person must be somewhere else. If one loses all his money, then he is to choose the realization that he was meant to lose his money, and there could not have been anything better for him. What’s left is to go figure out how to make the best of what is at hand. Why? Because that’s the only rational choice that is left.
And this is what Moshe wished for. To accept and choose what G-d chooses.
Pursuing Peace Wisely
ויבכו את אהרון שלושים יום כל בית ישראל -במדבר כ:כ”ט
The Jewish People cried for Aharon for thirty days. (BeMidbar 20:29)
As Rashi notes, the word כל (all) tells us that everyone wept for Aharon – women as well as men. Aharon was eulogized as anאוהב שלום ורודף שלום” ” (a lover of peace and one who pursued peace) because he would constantly make peace between rivals and between husband and wife.
Hillel’s famous teaching was inspired by Aharon’s example. Be a disciple of Aharon: love peace and pursue peace; love people and bring them close to Torah (Avot 1:12). The Bartenurah describes how Aharon would go about making peace. He would first approach one of the two feuding parties, and tell him (or her) just how much the other party wholeheartedly regrets his offensive actions and the friction this caused. He is terribly embarrassed that the matter has gotten out of hand, and thus sent me to seek your forgiveness. This same approach would be taken by Aharon in confronting the other party to the dispute. All this was done by Aharon without witnessing regret by either person. Ultimately, when the two met up with one another, they quickly made peace.
The commentators take note of the title given to Aharon: רודף שלום – pursuer of peace (see Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner’s Ruach Chaim and The Ben Ish Chai’s Ben Yehoyada on Sanhedrin 10b). The word רודף, which means pursuer or chaser, commonly has negative connotations. Indeed, this is the term the Torah uses to describe someone who is chasing another person with intent to kill or cause serious harm. How, then, could this word be applied to the efforts of the great peacemaker, Aharon?
The answer given is that in order to attain peace, one must sometimes even take a step towards siding with one party in a dispute, and only then step forward towards peace. For example, imagine that in the time of Aharon, Reuven heard that Shimon has been spreading vicious rumors about him or even plotting against him. If Aharon would try to make peace by saying that he heard Shimon express regret, and was sent by Shimon to ask Reuven’s forgiveness, this tactic might easily fail due to Reuven’s suspicions about Shimon’s true motives. Rather, Aharon would first win Shimon’s trust by “chasing peace” and almost take sides in the dispute. He would say to Reuven that if the report about Shimon’s plotting is actually true, then you should forcefully set things straight and not forgive him. Only then, after showing Reuven how important his feelings are in Aharon’s eyes, and validating them, could Aharon find some way to resolve the conflict: maybe the rumors are false, maybe there is a misunderstanding that can be dealt with and clarified by talking openly. Once Reuven’s negative feelings towards Shimon have been validated, he becomes capable of dealing with his anger and overcoming it. .
The Mishnah about Aharon and his “life motto” continues:אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה (He loved people and brought them closer to Torah). Let us explore for a few moments the connection between this aspect of Ahraon’s life and his technique of validating people’s feelings and perspectives. Many people have a passion to engage in קירוב רחוקים (Jewish outreach), and offer our brethren better lives through the observance of Torah and Mitzvot. The approach to Kiruv that I have adopted and have found effective might be called “the osmosis approach.” Judaism is so beautiful that it does not need to be forced on anyone. Those who are non-religious usually have never gotten the right taste or feeling for it. People’s values are always affected by their surroundings. By building a relationship of friendship and love, even without forcing the discussion towards religious matters, we can help the non-religious pick up many things from Judasim that they can relate to on their level.
There are, of course, those who use the approach of “Join us,” or “Change to our lifestyle.” This approach is usually more effective in outlying areas where becoming religious does not mean having to leave one’s current circle of friends or social group. In big cities, however, where the non-religious often live on the same block as the religious community, they frequently cannot see themselves leaving their circle and connecting themselves with a circle they always shied away from. Aharon’s method of “playing on their court by their rules” can be effective even in a situation like this. In our terms, this involves our perceiving what Judaism could mean to our non-religious neighbors and talking about aspects of Torah they can relate to. It might even involve just inviting them for a good Shabbat meal. Just by showing care and love, and validating the good values of the irreligious neighbor, one can build a bridge to the most distant of hearts.
If we understand what Aharon was all about, we will realize that we do not need to look too hard for ignorant or alienated fellow Jews into whose lives we can bring Judaism. And if we have proper אהבת ישראל, it may even be the neighbor next door.
A Jewish Jew
וישמע הכנעני מלך ערד ישב הנגב כי בא ישראל דרך האתרים וילחם בישראל וישב ממנו שביץ (במדבר כא:א)
When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Jews were traveling on the Atarim route, he attacked them and took some captives. (BeMidbar 21:1) .
Who exactly were these “Canannites” attackers? Rashi explains (following the Midrash) that they were actually Amalekites! They attacked the Jews only after changing their language to that of the Canaanites in an attempt to confuse their would-be victims. They hoped that the Jews would be fooled, and would pray that G-d deliver the Canaanites into their hands. Their prayers would then be of no value. But, fortunately, the Jews noticed that despite their enemies’ language being that of Canaan, their clothes were those of Amalek. The Jews therefore prayed that G-d redeem them from whomever they were fighting. And G-d answered their prayers.
Now, we might well ask: If the Amalekites were really trying to disguise their identity and pass as Canaanites, why didn’t they adopt Canaanite clothes as well?
The answer should make us stop and think: If the Amalekites would have adopted Canaanite clothing along with the Canaanite language, they would have lost their identity and become Canaanites themselves! Then, when the Jews would pray to G-d for victory against the Canaanites, their prayers would be effective.
The fact is that if a person changes how he speaks together with how he dresses, then his entire identity changes as well. This concept is of great importance in a number of areas, especially in parenting. A well-adjusted child must have a sense of identity, a sense of which group he belongs to. When parents are not happy with their own traditions or surrounding environment, this identity crisis will usually be passed on to their offspring as well. The child falls between the cracks, coming to feel that having no identity is better than having a double identity. Dismayed parents wonder how the child they put so much love into is still not able to find himself. But how can fruits flourish when the stem is so flimsy?
Let’s face it: The way we present ourselves to the world is not only the way we are identified by others, but also the way we come to identify ourselves. Just by looking in the mirror for a few moments, we can see what kind of self-identity we are creating. Everyday clothing affects the mindset no less than a Black Tie does at an elegant affair. This is all the more true for us Jews. If, for example, we present ourselves without a head-covering or with a gentile name, then our Jewish identity is put at a very low level on our hierarchy of values. This will adversely impact on our own Jewish identity as well as that of our children.
It is no accident that we say at the Brit Milah: “כשם שנכנס לברית כן יכנס לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים” – Just as he entered the covenant of the Jewish Nation with G-d, so may he merit to learn Torah, marry at the chupah, and live a life of good deeds (Shabbat 137b). Notice that the word used here is כשם rather than כמו , a more commonly used Hebrew word for just as/like. One way of explaining this is that the Jewish name given at the Brit Milah endows the child with a Jewish identity right from the start. As the boy reaches and faces future stages of life, however, it sometimes happens, unfortunately, that Mordechai becomes Max, Chaim changes to Victor, and Shmuel turns into Sam. The name change may herald – and certainly reinforces – a change in identity. For this reason, we say כשם…, not כמו…. We mean not only just as, but also: just like the name. We pray that the little Mordechai, Chaim, or Shmuel should be able to proudly keep his Jewish identity throughout all the stages of life. We pray that G-d give him the courage to face his future maintaining the identity that meant so much to his ancestors throughout Jewish history.