Parshat Masai

By Sarah Goldstein

Chosh tov,

Today is the Yarzheit of Aharon Hakohen. In fact, it is the only Yarzeit mentioned in the Torah, and is mentioned specifically in this week’s parsha.

  וַיַּעַל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אֶל־הֹר הָהָר עַל־פִּי יְהֹוָה וַיָּמׇת שָׁם בִּשְׁנַת הָאַרְבָּעִים לְצֵאת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ׃

We are told by Rashi in פרשת חקת that all of Klal Yisrael, men and women, cried over Aharon Hakohen’s death because he was the one who brought peace between people and also between husband and wife in any rift taking place This Rashi calls upon us to imagine a world in which any time there was a miscommunication between people and they struggle to truly find peace and connection, any time people were focused on annoyances and judgement to the extent that there was a struggle in connection of an innate peace between them, there was Aharon Hakohen there to bring out the hidden message, the hidden unity, the שלום ביניהם. What gave him this unique strength? Why is it important that we know his yahrzeit, that we are able to take in this lesson to heart specifically on this day of the year? And how is it connected to the dream of Geula that we are all looking for?

The Meor Einayim quotes the famous mishnah in avos:
. הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:
Hillel would say, be of the students of Aharon, love peace and pursue peace, love the creations and bring them close to Torah.

He then goes on to teach that what Aharon Hakohen succeeded in doing, was not just creating peace between people, but actually creating peace in the initial rift of all time. Between the lower waters and the higher waters. The lower waters, once separated from the higher waters, cried that they too want to stand before the King. Ultimately, the lower waters represent the physical world of action, the mundane world in which we live. This world too, yearns to be incorporated into Divine service, to be connected and attached to Hashem. Everything and everyone in the world that we see holds a piece of G-dliness that years to be seen and reconnected to Hashem, to be part of the bigger purpose of creation. The world that we see doesn’t want to remain in the illusion of being separate from Hashem, it yearns to be seen through the eyes of Aharon Hakohen, through the lens of a bigger picture of unity, to be connected back to its source in Hashem. In fact the Meor Einayim teaches that Aharon reached his high level of bringing peace to the world specifically through his capacity to see everyone and everything through the lens of אוהב את הבריות, as a creation of Hashem. To see through the created to the Creator. And through his capacity to be מקרבן לתורה, to see the Torah hiding with which everything and everyone was created. Being ready to learn the Torah within each encounter. Connecting each person, experience, and thing we encounter in our lives as being created by Hashem, and being open and ready to learn the Torah hiding within it.

This week is פרשת מסעי. The recounting of the story of our people going through 40 years of journeying through the dessert. The Chassidic masters teach that each stop had its own tikkun, its own sparks that needed to be raised, its own struggle to be overcome, its own Torah to be revealed, and thereby another piece of our own unique light to discover. The Degel Machane Efrayim teaches from his Rebbe the Ba’al Shem Tov Hakadosh, that each of these stops, each of these journeys actually unfold in every single one of our lives. We go through each of these 42 journeys, and the 7 where they turned back on themselves, the sheva yipol tzaddik vekam. We each have a story of tikkun unfolding, each is its own creation of the Divine, and each has its own Torah to teach, if we look closer, if we listen deeper and open our hearts to learn and discover its pnimius. To see each stop along the way, each challenge we get caught in, not just as a stumbling block, but rather as a chance to learn a new Torah, to reclaim another piece of Hashem’s world, and bring it back to its source, by remembering Hashem from within it too.

One of the biggest challenges of Galus is living in illusion, living in a world that sometimes seems separate from Hashem, dealing with challenges, or even just mundane life, and seeing it as separate from Avodas Hashem. Often we see or try to perceive ד’ אחד, the Unity of Hashem, the bigger picture, but then when we apply it to this world, the struggles, the seeming chaos, the confusions and doubts in our own minds and hearts, it can be hard to apply the ושמו אחד with a full complete trusting whole heart. We know of and dream for an ideal world where Hashem’s malchus is revealed but often get challenged when we see people or things that to our limited mind seem far away from the Geula we yearn for. We are about to start the 9 days of mourning, we do know what we lost, everything we know intuitively Hashem’s world should look like. But its our job to find that missing secret, the Torah hiding within even the darkest places, to find Hashem even when He’s hiding, through looking: ובקשתם משם את ד’ אלוקיך ומצאת כי תדרשנו בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך. We find Him when we search with our whole heart and soul, maybe not immediately, but when we keep looking, we’ll find Him.

When two people who really love each other are in an argument, in a struggle, a miscommunication, and there is a distance; often that awakens a deeper desire than ever before to be close. And that desire awakens the closeness that can only emerge after the rift, the seeming distance. We learnt last year on Tisha B’av with Yehudis from the Ramad Vali that Eicha is really the book of the closeness that emerges after the rift, closer than the slight tension that was there beforehand. Its through the prophesies of the churban that we access the deepest yearnings and feelings of closeness with Hashem, pessukim such as חסדי ד’ כי לא תמנו כי לא כלו רחמיו, and השיבנו ד’ אליך ונשובה. It is whilst the Beis Hamikdash is going up in flames that the keruvim are facing each other. It’s been a long way through the desert, the stops have been longer than we thought we were capable of. And yet there’s a yearning that is felt, a closeness waiting to be discovered, a light in klal yisrael ready to be awakened, a light that we’ve never seen before when אור חדש על ציון תאיר ונזכה כלנו מהרה לאורו, then we’ll discover how this whole time we were never even far away, we’ve been together the whole time.

There’s a famous story from the Bartenura on the above mishna in Avos which teaches us how Aharon made peace between Am Yisrael. He would go to one party and tell them, you know, the other person is so upset that he hurt you, he asks if you can forgive him. He then went to the second party and tell them the same things. Both sides would come together and make peace. He knew the secret, he knew that under all their thoughts and patterns, this was the truth, no yid in their insides wants to hurt another. The illusion looks confusing, things can be harsh, we get caught up in mistakes and patterns and most of us are far from perfect, but Aharon Hakohen teaches us that ultimately we want closeness, we will get to tikkun, we will learn from our mistakes, and in our hearts we always do want closeness, especially in those moments, the keruvim are still facing each other, maybe more so than ever.

The Alter Rebbe teaches that the healing of שנאת חינם lies in a love that is beyond reason, beyond the illusion of what we confront before our eyes. The capacity to look deeper in another Jew, see the Elokus within them, see the Torah that they are teaching us and to love them beyond what our eyes may see. This is perhaps one of the deepest lessons going into חודש אב, to look deeper, to yearn more for that closeness and to reveal it for and with each other and to bring the Geula one step closer, אמן כן יהי רצון.

Good Chodesh, Good Shabbos