In this week’s parshah, the Torah recounts the death of Aaron the High Priest, Moses’ brother. Although we just read about this a couple of weeks ago, the Torah finds it necessary to repeat the story and to add a unique detail: the date of his passing, Rosh Chodesh, the first day of Menachem Av. While our sages tell us the date of the passing of some of the other biblical figures, Aaron is the only one whose date of death the Torah states clearly.
Another distinctive aspect of this recounting is the time when we read it. The events that we read about in the Torah rarely align with the time of year when they occurred. For example, we spend the winter reading the Torah portions about the exile and redemption of Egypt, but we celebrate the holiday of Passover in the spring.
This week’s Torah portion, however, describing Aaron’s passing on Rosh Chodesh Menacham Av, is always read the week of or the week prior to his yahrzeit.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches, “Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron — a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.”
What did Aaron do to be known as a lover of and pursuer of peace? Avot D’rebi Natan describes two powerful behaviors of Aaron.
When Aaron saw two people involved in a quarrel, he would say to each of them, without the knowledge of the other, “My child, your friend is berating himself with remorse because of what he did to you. He asked me to approach you to seek your forgiveness.” When the two would meet, their quarrel would disappear and they would embrace.
Also, when Aaron would pass a wicked man, he would greet him warmly. The next day, when the wicked man would want to engage in sin, he would think to himself, “Woe is to me! How will I be able to look upon Aaron tomorrow when he greets me with love?” Others would think, “If Aaron only knew the hidden things of my heart and the evil of my deeds, he would not allow himself to look at me, let alone speak to me. Yet he considers me to be a fine person — let me therefore make his words and thoughts true by changing my ways.”
It is no coincidence that on Aaron’s yahrzeit we begin the “Nine Days” of mourning the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. Our sages have famously said that the cause for the destruction of the Temple was “baseless hatred.” Perhaps the repetition of Aaron’s passing, with the exact date of his death, is a lesson for each of us.
In the laws of mourning for personal loss, Maimonides writes, “One should examine his deeds and repent.” Certainly, the mourning period of the destruction of the Temple is a time to consider how we can bring about the rebuilding of the Temple. If the cause of the destruction is baseless hatred, then it would seem that the way to fix it is with baseless love.
We have good reason to love and mingle with people who think the way we do, share our values, have similar personalities and agree with our views. “Baseless love” requires us to think and act differently. The next time we meet a person who has ideological, theological or political views diametrically opposed to ours, let us genuinely greet her or him warmly, extend an invitation for a Shabbat dinner and spend time together. As an extra benefit we may find that we have more in common with each other than we thought; even if not, a little “baseless love” will certainly not hurt. PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Altein is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.