(Torah Portion Chukas) Reminders
The Torah records the death of Aaron stating that he was buried on Har Hahor, which is situated on the border of the Land of Edom. Similarly, when the Torah records the passing of Moshe, it says he was buried on Har Nevo, which faces the house of Pe’or.
Rabbi Yonoson Eibeshets o.b.m. offers an insightful reason why they were buried in these specific locations.
One may ask why was Moshe buried facing Pe’or? After all, Pe’or was an idol which unfortunately the Jews had worshiped and were punished as a result.
There is nothing more abhorring to G-d, than idolatry. Idolatry can affect one negatively even if he is unaware of its worship, as we will soon see.
The idol of Pe’or stood in Shittim. When the Jews came there they were told by the locals to defecate in front of the idol. The Jews did so thinking that this would bring disgrace to the idol. Little did they know that this was the way the idol was worshipped! Although they were unaware that this was its manner of worship, it weakened their spiritual state and left them vulnerable to sinning with their women.
Says Rabbi Eibeshets, while Moshe was in Heaven studying Torah from G-d, he didn’t eat, drink or produce any bodily waste. Our Sages teach us that the Jews ate the miraculous Manna during their sojourn in the desert, in the merit of Moshe. The Manna was so pure, that it did not produce any bodily waste when it was consumed. Had they consumed only the Manna they would not have been able to worship the idol and thus been spared from sinning. Thus, the worship of Pe’or came about because the Jews consumed foods other than Manna.
Moshe’s burial place faced the idol Pe’or to stand as an everlasting protection for the Jews for their involvement in the sin of Pe’or.
Rabbi Ebeshets explains that Aaron was buried across from the land of Edom because the wicked Edomites were the descendants of Aisav. Aisav harbored hate toward his brother Yaacov because Aisav as the firstborn felt entitled to the Patriarchal blessing from his father Yitzchok. He held his younger brother Yaacov in contempt for through deceit he received the blessings in his stead. Although Aisav had explicitly sold his birthright to Yaacov, Aisav harbored resentment towards Yaacov for receiving the blessings.
Although Aaron was older than Moshe, his younger brother Moshe was appointed by G-d to be the leader of the Jewish nation. Aaron fully and sincerely accepted his younger brother’s appointment with great pride and joy for he knew that Moshe was greater than he in wisdom and prophecy.
Aaron’s submission did not preclude him prestige, for although the firstborn males were originally designated for the Priesthood, it was eventually bestowed onto Aaron and his descendants to serve as Kohanim – Priests.
Aaron’s burial across from the land of Edom serves as a constant reminder to Aisav and his descendants that following protocol rather than employing resentment, hate and aggression, generates opportunities of privileged distinction.
The Torah in this week’s portion also records the death of Miriam the sister of Aaron and Moshe. With Miriam’s death, the rock that produced water for the Jews in the desert for 39 years abruptly stopped doing so. Our Sages tell us that the miracle of the water was due to Miriam’s righteousness and involvement watching her infant brother Moshe while he floated in a basket in the Nile River.
I wonder if while traveling 39 years in the desert, Miriam or any of the millions of people knew that the gift of water was due to her righteousness.
Apparently, it was only after her death that they realized the blessing they received on her behalf.
We never know what blessings are generated due to our belief in and commitment to G-d through our performance of righteous deeds, or by conducting ourselves in accordance with the Torah’s moral and ethical teachings.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks