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8.11.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 9:13 pm
by RabbiMark
The book of Deuteronomy serves as a sort-of greatest hits album for Torah. Parashat Eikev contains one of the three speeches of Moses, in which he gives the Israelites a recap of major events and laws they have experienced and received. Knowing he is soon-to-be retired, Moses needs to make sure that the Israelites have all the knowledge they need to build a new life in the Promised Land. But as important as Moses’ speeches are, I’ve always wondered what wisdom and advice other Israelite leaders might have had for the people.

One such leader is Moses’ brother, Aaron. Parashat Eikev mentions his death for a second time, and I am reminded that his voice is absent from this retelling of Torah. Despite his important position and role in the community, Aaron does not get a farewell soliloquy or a detailed description of his death. Aaron’s contemporary importance has been diminished to a seemingly irrelevant role in Jewish history.

But the Rabbis did not believe that Aaron’s role was insignificant, and in fact, suggested he had great wisdom to offer the Jewish people. Rabbi Hillel taught that we should “be one of Aaron’s students,” learning from his example to “love peace and pursue it; love people, and bring people closer to Torah.” We are taught to follow the laws of Moses, yes, but that we should also be like Aaron, to be driven by the values of love and peace.

The rabbis teach that Aaron loved peace so much that he would go out of his way to help people who were in conflict. They teach that Aaron, if he saw two people who were fighting, would go to one of them, sit down next to them and say, “My child, don’t you see how much your friend is tearing their heart out and berating themselves for what they have done?” And Aaron would sit patiently by their side, until they had overcome their resentment, and realized their own missteps. Then Aaron would go to the other party, repeat the process for them, so that when the two met again, they forgave each other and embraced.

We also see how Aaron loved people, most poignantly, upon his death. The Torah says, “The entire assembly [men, women, and children] wept for Aaron for thirty days…;” as opposed to the passing of Moses, where only “the sons of Israel [the males] wept for Moses…” He gave love and was loved by all people in return. He was someone who did not criticize: a midrash - a rabbinic legend - teaches that, unlike Moses, Aaron never said to a single person, “You have sinned.” Whereas Moses criticized people harshly, Aaron tried to prevent them from doing wrong.

And how did he prevent them from doing any wrong? He brought them closer to Torah, to our ethical teachings, by living as an example. It is said of Aaron, that whenever Aaron encountered someone of questionable reputation, he wouldn’t avoid them; instead he would stop and greet the person with a warm “Shalom!” And so, the next day, the same person might want to do something questionable or wrong, that person might stop and think, “What would happen if I run into Aaron? How could I look him in the eye, when he greeted me with such compassion?” Or perhaps, if Aaron considered them to be worthy of a “shalom,” to be a good person, the person might work to make Aaron’s thoughts true by changing their ways.

The wisdom of Aaron, perhaps meant to be read alongside the wisdom of Moses found in Parashat Eikev, is simple. It is as simple as trying our best to pursue peace in our lives, our families, and our world. It means acting out of love whenever possible, even when others around us and in the world are not doing so, and to act righteously - but not self-righteously - in order that others might follow our lead.

Studying the legacy of Aaron’s life and lessons reminds me that each of us comes to Torah with our own voice and our own message. This summer at Beit T’shuvah, I have had the incredible opportunity to learn with so many in this community. I am so grateful for this opportunity to come into a place that is so rich with stories and wisdom. Like Aaron and the Israelites, these stories are not absent of pain, and the lessons learned are often drawn from challenging experiences. And I am thankful to be in a place that meets these challenges with love, the pursuit of peace, and righteous action.

Shabbat shalom,
Stephanie Crawley