Hillel said: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. Be one who loves other people and draws them near to the Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 1:12)
Aaron was a unique person who had the ability to smooth over altercations between people. He would build bridges instead of barriers, and, by his behavior, demonstrate the beauty of the Torah lifestyle.
The Jewish people appreciated Aaron’s peacemaking. In the “Ethics of the Fathers,” Hillel tells us that we should attempt to emulate these character traits of Aaron.
In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson cuts short a terrible plague by physically striking out against
the instigators. G-d praised this action as the correct and necessary thing to do at that time.
“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My anger from the people of Israel in that he was very jealous for My sake … therefore I give him My covenant of peace.” Numbers, 25:11-12.
Seems incongruous, doesn’t it? By striking two people, how could Pinchas earn G-d’s “covenant of peace”?
The Sages say, “One who is merciful to the cruel will ultimately cause cruelty to the merciful.” Pinchas understood the wisdom behind this. By his swift action, he was being merciful to the innocent people to whom this plague would otherwise have spread. Society and its inherent values must be protected by equitable laws. These serve us when they are justly and consistently applied for the greater good.
This is precisely why Pinchas’ connection to Aaron is spelled out. Although it may have seemed harsh, it was the right thing
to do. Because like Aaron, Pinchas acted for the sake of G-d, the Jewish people and the Torah.
During the Three Weeks (17 Tamuz – 9 Av) we remember the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans. This is an appropriate time to recall and to follow the examples of Aaron and Pinchas. When we do so, we will avoid the errors that led to destruction, and can we learn the lessons that can bring true peace to our world.
Shabbat shalom. PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.