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TorahParshat Matot-Massei

The Jewish peace activist

Numbers 30:2 - 36:13

(File photo)
(File photo)

This Shabbat, the first day of the Hebrew month of Av (July 10), marks the 3,294th yahrzeit of Aaron the Cohen. I know this because this week’s Torah portion tells us the date of Aaron’s passing. This is the only time the Torah tells us the exact date of a person’s passing; even Moses did not received this honor.

A yahrzeit is the time to reflect on the person’s life to see what we can learn to improve our own lives. Aaron’s life provides a lesson for every single Jew; therefore the Torah tells us the date of his passing so each year we will get together and dedicate that day to remember his life and learn from it.

Unlike other great Jewish leaders, Aaron had a unique connection to every single Jew — to the extent that even young children were saddened by his passing. We are taught that Aaron not only loved peace, but he also pursued peace to ensure that all Jewish people were living peacefully with one another.

One of the unique gifts the Almighty gave to us is the gift of free choice. We can choose to do amazing things, but we also have the capacity to make very bad choices and do terrible things. If we didn’t have the ability to do really bad things, then we would not have the ability to do really good things. On the rare occasions that you come across someone who made a bad choice and is doing something bad, how can you love and be at peace with that person?

Here’s a lesson we can take from Aaron’s life: Think of a person you love and ask yourself why you love them. Generally we love people who make us feel good and wanted. That’s why I love my children — they make me feel needed 120% of every day. So, how was Aaron able to make peace among adversaries, which would require pointing out they were doing something wrong, while continuing to be loved by them?

Aaron’s approach to a situation like this was to focus on what was right, not on what was wrong. He thus helped people realize the amazing potential lying within them, and that each one of us has a spark of Godliness, a neshama (soul) — we have the key to a treasure trove of diamonds and it’s up to us to use it. Aaron never mentioned or focused on the bad things that people did. Instead, he was able to elevate people and have them recognize their potential and what they could accomplish. That’s why he was truly loved by everyone. He was able to bring people together by having them realize they had so much more in common than what divided them.

Aristotle once said, “A friend to all is a friend to none.” While on the surface that seems true, it is not the case for someone who has a neshama.

We are now in a time of mourning through the Ninth of Av. We mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, which stood in the holy city of Jerusalem. The great sages explained the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among the Jewish people. And if we want the Temple to be rebuilt, we need to have baseless love. We will merit the coming of Moshiach who will usher in true world peace, not just for the Jewish people but for the entire world — a time when there will be no wars and no jealousy. A world full of goodness and kindness. PJC

Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz is the rabbi at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Morgantown, West Virginia. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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