In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the passing of the High Priest, Aharon. The Torah tells us, “The whole congregation saw that Aharon had expired, and the Entire house of Israel wept for Aharon for thirty days.” The Midrash points out that in the description of the Jewish People’s mourning of Moshe, the Torah says “The Israelites wept for him for thirty days”. However, when describing Aharon’s passing it says “The Entire House of Israel wept for him.” It would appear that Aharon had captured the greater popular appeal.
What made Aharon so popular? What was his charm? The Midrash tells us one of the reasons:
“Hillel says: Be one of the disciples of Aharon. He loved peace and pursued peace; loved people and drew them close to the Torah.”
When two people quarreled Aharon went and sat down with one of them and said to him, “My son, know that your friend has said, ‘I am ashamed before him because I have sinned against him.’” Aharon would sit with him until he had dispelled the ill feeling from his heart.
Then Aharon would go and sit with the other one and say to him, “Know that your friend is saying, ‘Woe is to me! How shall I raise my eyes and look at my friend? I am ashamed before him because I have sinned against him.’” Aharon would sit with him until he had dispelled the ill feeling from his heart. When the two friends later met, they embraced and kissed each other.
In other words, Aharon understood that what keeps people apart is often their pride and ego. Each one thinks, “Let the other one come to me and then we can reconcile.” So Aharon took it upon himself to let each know that the other one really wanted to reconcile even though neither party had ever told Aharon that that was their intention, nor had they appointed him as the peacemaker.
Although this method was extremely effective, it does beg the question, how was Aharon permitted to concoct a story like this? Permitting a lie is no small matter in Torah, as it says, “Distance yourself from falsehood.” How can we explain this? Was Aharon’s method of making peace merely a case of “the ends justify the means”? Or was there something more to his approach that needs to be understood?
There is a teaching from Hillel, the great Talmudic sage, recorded in a famous debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai that helps us understand Aharon’s method.
The Talmud asks, “What does one sing when dancing before the bride?” Beit Shammai said, “The bride as she is.” Beit Hillel said, “The bride is beautiful and graceful.” Said the school of Shammai, “What if the bride is lame or blind, can we call her beautiful and graceful? Did the Torah not prohibit lying?” To which Beit Hillel replied, “When someone makes a purchase, shall we praise it or criticize it?”
How do we understand this passage? Most students assume that Shammai was scrupulously honest and Hillel was gracefully generous. Hillel was willing to tell a white lie for the sake of peace. Shammai was not.
There is, however, a different way of understanding Hillel’s approach. Hillel will tell you that if you don’t see beauty or grace in the bride, it is not because she does not possess it, rather it is because you have not looked hard enough. Obviously, the groom who is marrying this bride sees something very beautiful in her. When you sing her praises, you are identifying with that beauty that her groom sees in her, and it is therefore not a lie. It is actually a very deep and moving truth when you can connect to someone else’s truth.
This idea can be applied to Aharon’s peace-making method. When he approached each of the parties in conflict, he understood that their deepest desire was to live in peace and harmony and end the conflict. That was the truth that Aharon was operating on and it is for this reason that it was so effective.
I just returned from New York where, together with thousands of others, we marked the 25th yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of Blessed Memory. In the spirit of Aharon, the Rebbe taught, lived and breathed the idea that we look past external labels and descriptions into the depth of another person and love them for who they are. The Rebbe built a worldwide network based on this ideal and inspired followers and students to continue in this path. Now, 25 years later, this legacy of unconditional love has grown by leaps and bounds and has spread to all corners of the world in the form of thousands of centers.
I suggest that to honor his legacy, we incorporate one of these practical things, as cited by Chabad.org, that the Rebbe asked every Jew to do:
Start each morning by saying, “I accept upon myself the mitzvah to love my fellow Jew just as I love myself.”
Speak only good about other people. Don’t even listen to a bad word, unless some real benefit will come to this person through your conversation.
Look for opportunities to do another
Support a Jewish free loan fund.
Bring Jewish people together. Tear down
the false barriers of age, affiliation and
Invite other Jews to share in the most precious thing we have: our Torah and our mitzvahs.
Shabbat Shalom! pjc
Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum directs Chabad of the South Hills. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.