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All the House of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days (20:29)
The Parasha relates the last moments of Aaron's life at Mount Hor. Aaron was to be 'gathered to his people' because of 'defying My words at the Waters of Meriba' (20:24). And Rashi brings the Talmudic tradition (Avot 1:12; Avot R. Nathan 12:3-6) that Aaron's death was especially lamented because he was a peacemaker who went out of his way to bring harmony between quarreling parties, and in family disputes.
These are two very separate points. Firstly, it was Moses, not Aaron, who thundered at the grumbling second-generation of Israelites with 'Listen you rebels'. And it was Moses who struck the rock instead of speaking to it (20:10-11). Why was Aaron's death connected with something he did not actually do?
Secondly, with possible exception of the tactics he used to put off the building of the Golden Calf, there seems to be no Torah reference to 'Aaron the Peacemaker'. Is that tradition supported by any event in the Torah?
These seemingly unrelated issues may be actually shed light one on another, as explained below.
Aaron's first appearance in the Torah is as Moses' communicator - both to Pharaoh, and to the suffering Israelites. Moses declared that he 'was not a man of words' but 'heavy of mouth and heavy of speech' (Ex. 4:10), to which G-d retorted that his brother Aaron would 'speak on your behalf to the people' (Ex. 4:16).
The Commentators debate the precise nature of Moses' claim of verbal shortcomings. But it may be suggested that being 'heavy of mouth and heavy of speech' implies recognizing the need to be able to put one's case to the monarchy and to the public in an attractive way. To get them on your side. To get them to like you, so that they will at least empathize even if they won't carry out your wishes to the last letter. Most important, to employ the gift of persuasion and avoid confrontation. To address people as people, not as units at a public meeting. In other words, not to be 'heavy of mouth and heavy of speech' - verbally over-intense, driving the very people you wish to influence to the other direction.
Aaron was able to fulfill those essential requirements. Moses in his humility felt that it was not him: he said what had to be said, and that was it. And the same quality of winning over the public and the monarchy was essential when it came to dealing with individuals. It was that which made Aaron a peacemaker who was able to bring harmony between quarreling parties and in family disputes…
This may also explain why Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. He was present when Moses struck the rock (20:10), but he kept quiet. The situation was tense. Aaron might have used his tactful approach to gain the empathy of the Israelites so that they would be ready to appreciate that 'just as the rock that neither speaks nor hears nor needs sustenance fulfills the Will of G-d, how much more should we!' (Rashi to 20:12). He could have saved the entire situation, and the rock would never have been struck. Instead of which, his silence was left to be filled by the more confrontational Moses and 'Listen you rebels'.
As Ecclesiastes puts it 'there is a time for everything… a time to be silent and a time to speak' (Eccl. 3:1,7). And it was the time for Aaron to employ his remarkably conciliatory speech qualities to the full…
For those after more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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