No Change

(Torah Portion Behaaloscha) No Change!

We extend our sincere wishes of condolences to our Vice President, Joe Biden, on the loss of his dear and beloved son Beau. I read a moving article about a speech Mr. Biden gave three years ago to grieving families. In this speech he described quite poignantly how, after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic accident, he functioned as a dad to his two sons. I share with you two touching parts of his speech that I think capture good lessons in parenting.

In the decades after his loss, Biden as Senator would commute to and from Washington on the train, trying to get home each night to see his children.

“I commuted from Wilmington to Washington each day because I wanted to be able to kiss my boys goodnight and kiss them in the morning the next day. We didn’t have fancy breakfasts or do great familial things, rather, I just climbed in bed with them.

I realized that a child can only hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, for maybe 12 or 24 hours, and then it is gone. And when it is gone, it’s gone. And it all adds up. But looking back at it, truth be told, the real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me.”

The Torah portion begins with the instruction to Aaron, the High Priest, to kindle the seven-branched golden Menorah in the Temple each evening.

Interestingly, the Torah informs us that, “Aaron did as he was commanded.” Commentators explain that the Torah stresses that Aaron did as he was told in order to inform us that each time Aaron performed the service he did it with the same enthusiasm he had when he did it the first time. The repetition of the Mitzvah performance did not weaken his zeal and eagerness to do it.

Our great commentator Rashi tells us that the Torah stresses Aaron doing what he was told in order to inform us that Aaron never veered from what he was instructed to do. The question raised is what type of praise it is to Aaron that he did not deviate from his instruction? After all, he was the Kohain Godol – the holiest of people.

My uncle Rabbi Moshe Saks explains this with a Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers that tells us to be like the students of Aaron and love and pursue peace. Aaron was the go to person to work out disagreements, arguments and misunderstandings that arose between husbands and wives.

In order to restore Shalom – peace in the home between husband and wife, in many instances one is allowed to cover up and avoid telling the truth. Aaron in this capacity of pursuer of peace had to switch things around in order to restore peace.

Now, getting back to our question why Rashi comments that Aaron did not deviate in kindling the Menorah. Why should we think he would? The answer is that Rashi is telling us that the Torah is testifying that Aaron only veered off from the truth when he was permitted to for the sake of restoring peace and tranquility in the home. But never did this approach carry over to when it came to the perfection of the performance of a Mitzvah; there, Aaron did exactly as G-d commanded. Never did he alter or pretend in his service.

Aaron had the knack of perceiving when people were in conflict and he would cleverly devise ways for the feuding parties to mend, heal and unify.

The other day I was on the phone with a friend from out of town. He told me that after the funeral of an uncle who had estranged himself from the rest of the family, the entire extended family came back to the house where the widow and children graciously welcomed the family back. He told me it was a bit awkward since for years they hadn’t been to the home or really gotten together because of the nature and personality of the deceased uncle.

He decided to go over privately to each of his three cousins (mourners) and tell them they were their father’s favorite and how he was so proud of their accomplishments. When he did so, the reaction of each one was very positive and they felt very comforted. A few minutes later, his cover was blown when two of the brothers shared what they heard – about both being the favorite. They figured out that he was trying to promote and foster their father’s love towards each of them.

He told me that his strategy proved to be a success, for the tension and awkwardness in the air dissolved with a good chuckle and feelings reverted back to the good old times when the family was unified. Whether my friend realized it or not, he was drawing on the peaceful ways of Aaron Hakohain!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid Saks