. . . and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days. — Numbers 20:29
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
In this week’s Torah reading, we lose two of Israel’s great leaders — Miriam and Aaron. Not coincidentally, the Israelites also lost two of the greatest miracles that had accompanied them in the wilderness. Judaism’s oral tradition teaches that the miraculous source of water that traveled with the Israelites was because of Miriam’s merit. The clouds of glory that protected the people in the desert were because of Aaron’s merit. The manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert was because of Moses.
We know that the well of water existed because of Miriam’s merit because it dried up soon after she died. But how do we know that the clouds of glory existed because of Aaron? The Jewish sages teach that right after Aaron died, the children of Israel were attacked. The verse reads, " . . . when the whole community learned that Aaron had died . . .” The sages teach that the “whole community” doesn’t just refer to the Israelites, but also to the surrounding nations, and particularly to the Canaanite king. When he learned that Aaron had died and the protective clouds of glory had departed, he attacked the Israelites.
Why did Aaron merit God’s presence – in the form of the clouds – to dwell among the people, protecting them and sheltering them from all harm?
The sages teach that Aaron was the ultimate peacemaker. He would make peace between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between neighbors and friends. It wasn’t so much that Aaron brought about the clouds of glory, as much as the fact that the peace he facilitated brought God to dwell among the people. I once read an anonymous quote that said, “Safety consists not in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.” Aaron, by bringing peace to the people, brought about God’s presence, which in turn brought safety to the people.
In the Jewish tradition, all souls that ever existed and that will ever exist are all part of one body. We are all part of one whole. Just as there is danger to a whole body when two parts don’t function properly together, so, too, does all humanity suffer when there is strife between us. On the other hand, when we stand united in peace, God rests among us, and we are all safer, healthier, and happier.
There has never been a more important time to stand together in peace. Join us at The Fellowship as Jews and Christians unite for the sake of Israel and our shared biblical values. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 KJV). As we do so, God’s presence will bring us peace.
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With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President