Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

A Tribute to Aharon Hakohen

Rosh Chodesh Av's status as the beginning of a period of mourning predates the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. In Parshas Masei we read about the death of Aharon Hakohein and the accompanying display of mourning which Chazal observe surpassed even that of Moshe. Aharon merited this outpouring of grief because of his role as the lover and pursuer of peace. As we commemorate the yahrzeit of Aharon, let us analyze the significance of his role as the "ohev shalom v'rodef shalom".

To understand Aharon as an individual we have to first understand the role of shevet Levi of which he was a member. There are two sets of berachos recorded in the Torah which were given to the shevatim -  one by Yaakov and one by Moshe. While there are similarities between these berachos for most of the shevatim, the berachos given to shevet Levi are strikingly different. Yaakov portrays Levi as one prone to anger and sharply criticizes his violet actions in Shechem. In the berachos of Moshe, Levi is presented in an entirely different light. He is singled out as the ish chasid, the spiritual leader of the Jewish people both in the Beis Hamikdash and in the realm of teaching Torah. How do we resolve these two contradictory images of shevet Levi?

Both Yaakov and Moshe saw tremendous potential in shevet Levi. Members of  shevet Levi had strong personalities and exhibited great zeal and commitment to a cause they believed in. This trait, although potentially positive, can be extremely destructive as well. Yaakov saw this in the actions of Levi. His commitment to preserve the honor of his sister Dina lead to a rash act of violence which endangered the lives Yaakov's entire family.

Moshe saw this trait in Levi and blessed him with the ability to channel this quality properly Levi would become the shevet entrusted with the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. Chazal tell us that "kohanim zrizim heim - the kohanim exhibit this trait of great dedication and zeal to preserve the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash". In their role of teachers of Torah, the Leviim were also called upon to display their commitment and zeal. Torah cannot be transmitted without excitement and passion. It was specifically these traits that enabled shevet Levi to be the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people.

The great challenge of being a Levi is to channel these strong personality traits towards spiritual goals. Unfortunately, sometimes a person who has these characteristics will exhibit them in a negative way in his relationships with his fellow man. Someone who has strong opinions and is deeply committed to his ideals has difficulty interacting peacefully with others. Being a member of shevet Levi carried with it the danger of becoming an argumentative, confrontational individual. The epitome of this personality was the greatest baal machlokes in our history. Korach, who was also a Levi, used these traits to pursue his personal goals. In stark contrast to Korach stood Aharon Hakohein. Aharon channeled his zeal and commitment to preserving the sanctity of the Jewish people and transmitting the Torah. In his relationship with his fellow man he was soft-spoken, pleasant, and peaceful.

The vision of Yaakov and Moshe of a tribe with strong willed and zealous characteristics was fulfilled in Aharon Hakohein. It was precisely through perfecting himself by using these traits to further spiritual goals that he was able to become the pleasant lover and pursuer of peace. The death of Aharon was a blow to his entire shevet and to the entire Jewish people. They had lost a role model who exemplified how one can be passionate about one's beliefs, strong willed about one's convictions, and yet remain kind and loving to everyone one interacts with. May we all turn to Aharon hakohein as our role model, and our perpetuation of his legacy will be the greatest tribute to that great descendant of Levi.

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