(Torah Portion Chukas) Brotherhood

When the Jewish nation traveled through the desert a special ark preceded them, which miraculously flattened any hills or mountains that stood in their way.

However, three mountains remained. Mount Sinai – where they received the Torah; Har Hahor – where Aaron was buried, and Har Nevo – where Moshe was buried.

In this week’s Parsha the Torah describes the setting of Aaron’s passing. G-d instructed Moshe to ascend Mount Har Hahor together with Aaron and his son Elozar. They then entered a Divinely prepared area within the mountain. Moshe instructed Aaron to remove his high priestly garments and Elozar donned them, thus assuming his father’s position as High Priest. Aaron passed away in a uniquely peaceful manner.

When Moshe and Elozar descended without Aaron, the people couldn’t believe that their beloved Aaron had passed away. Only after G-d presented an image of Aaron in a deceased state did all of Israel begin mourning and continued to do so for thirty days.

The Torah emphasizes that all of Israel mourned because each and every person felt the loss personally since they were all touched in some way by Aaron’s benevolence, compassion and peaceful approach during his lifetime.

Reb Yonoson Aibeshutz o.b.m. points out that when the Torah describes the location of the mountain of Aaron’s burial spot, it says that it faced the land of Edom. Rabbi Aibeshutz enlightens us with the following:

The nation of Edom descended from Aisav, our ancestor Yaacov’s hateful brother.

Although he had sold his first-born birthright to Yaacov, Aisav still sought to receive the patriarchal blessings, which Yaacov cleverly and rightfully received.

Aisav and his descendants continuously harbored animosity and hatred towards Yaacov and his descendants for receiving these blessings. This is most evident in our Parsha where it records that the Jews requested permission from the King of Edom to peacefully pass through his land so that they could travel directly into Israel. Edom refused and mobilized their army at their borders.

Says Rabbi Aibeshutz, let us compare them to two other brothers when it came to an appointment of leadership for one of them.

When Moshe was dispatched by G-d to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt he initially refused. One of the reasons he refused was that he felt the leadership should be given to his older brother Aaron.

G-d told Moshe, Aaron’s heart is stunningly pure. You will see that he will be overjoyed at your appointment as leader. And so it was.

The Torah therefore tells us that Aaron’s burial spot faced Edom so that Aaron’s tomb would continually serve as an example to the Edomites of Aaron’s brotherhood. Thus they might relinquish their perpetual grievances between Aisav and his brother Yaacov and his descendants.

For one to change, it requires a willingness to let go of resentment, a sense of sincerity and honesty; and determination, fortitude, courage and a peaceful attitude.

Unfortunately, as we are well aware through our long history – Edom’s hatred towards us runs so deep that a mere tomb was not enough to change their hateful character.

Rabbi Shamshon Refael Hirsh o.b.m. contrasts last week’s incident of Korach and his cohorts who rebelled against Moshe and denied Aaron’s appointment as High Priest, with this week’s portion where a short while later, the entire nation, men and women genuinely mourned Aaron’s passing.

This teaches us that all the sporadic uprisings and unrest against Moshe and Aaron were motivated by temporary moods of despondency and panic.

However, when the nation was calm and collected, their intrinsic ethical, moral and peaceful nature prevailed and they fully recognized the exalted level of their great leaders and accorded them the greatest respect. They also desired to learn from and emulate their righteous ways, for this is in fact our inherent and fundamental nature.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks