One of the things that I’ve taken on as a volunteer position rather than a paid one is work with young people visiting Israel/Tzfat and helping them write a dvar Torah, literally a “word of Torah”. This becomes a short discussion about some topic that interests them dealing with some aspect of Torah. Or ethics. Or Jewish identity. Or pretty much whatever interests them, my job being to help them connect to some Jewish sources. It’s quite fascinating, as you see the ones who think they already know a lot are unable to get past the [actually pretty little] information that they supposedly know, and the ones who are truly open because they have cleared their egos for knowledge and authority can really learn a lot. And when they learn a lot, guess who does, too?
I learn because I have to state things that make sense, but not because they are well-trotted out lines. Things that make sense for the moment, for the situation, for the person I am speaking to. So great truths emerge, or at least for me!
Sort of like writing a blog.
This past week, I made some connections about sacrifices, lying, and peace.
The young woman I spoke to who was open and clear in her lack of pretense wanted to develop something about how to be authentic, speaking truth [to power?], but also working with people in a genuine way. The model who came to mind was Aharon the High Priest.
Be of the students of Aaron:
Love peace, pursue peace, love people and bring them closer to Torah.
Hillel (Avot 1:12)
היו מתלמידיו של אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה
הלל, משנה, מסכת אבות א:י”ב
Aharon was a fascinating character. He was the older brother, but he did not exhibit any jealousy about the younger brother getting the limelight. He was able to be the interpreter for Moshe and Pharaoh due to whatever kind of speech impediment that Moshe had; he was able to be the go-between there which led to a greater role of interpretation later. For whatever reason also here, G-d chose to divide the governing of the people between the brothers. Moshe became the legislator; Aharon became the judiciary, of sorts. What was the priesthood? What was the purpose of the sacrifices?
What became clear to me was that Aharon’s pursuit of peace was an essential role of his priesthood; bringing people close to Torah, which in its essence is bringing people to their true selves. There is a midrash/fable from Avot de-Rabbi Natan how he acted to bring peace:
It is also told of two people who had a quarrel that Aaron went and sat with one of them and said, “My son, see what your fellow is doing, for he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying: How can I look my friend in the eye? I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong.”
He would sit with him until he removed all jealousy from his heart. Afterwards he would go to his fellow and say to him, “My son, see what your fellow is doing. For he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying: How can I look my friend in the eye? I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong to him.”
He would sit there until he removed all jealousy from his heart. When the two met, they embraced and kissed each other. Therefore it is written, “all the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days” (Num. 20:29).
Yes, it is tied into this week’s Torah portion as well; why Bnei Yisrael mourned for Aharon for a full month with full appreciation of his sacrifices for them. But what about truth? So, did he really lie? What did he know about what the other thought? And this was when I realized what Aharon was doing; he was being a therapist, helping the patient understand his emotions and the person he thought was in conflict with him. He was helping the person get past his stuck point-of-view.
This is what the sacrifices were about, as well, and why Aharon was the perfect person to take this role. We get stuck with our actions so often and can’t figure out a way to get past ourselves. The sacrifices were a vehicle of getting past; getting rid of our guilt; getting out of our rut. So it is only fitting that the priest who was connected to this process of moving on would be the one who was able to pursue peace between people and between us and G-d.
And that Hillel, who was known for his path of peacemaking, would offer Aharon as a role model? That becomes a lesson in itself about always looking to connect past yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously, but take the other at his true word.