Parshas Matos/Masei / Rosh Chodesh Av - Boundless Love
This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated to my nephew Ari Burg who is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. Ari's parents are people who truly love every Jew and are are raising their family with exceptional ahavas Yisrael. As Ari becomes a Bar Mitzvah may he merit to follow in the footsteps of his parents.
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וַיִּסְע֖וּ מִקָּדֵ֑שׁ וַיַּֽחֲנוּ֙ בְּהֹ֣ר הָהָ֔ר בִּקְצֵ֖ה אֶ֥רֶץ אֱדֽוֹם: וַיַּ֩עַל֩ אַֽהֲרֹ֨ן הַכֹּהֵ֜ן אֶל־הֹ֥ר הָהָ֛ר עַל־פִּ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה וַיָּ֣מָת שָׁ֑ם בִּשְׁנַ֣ת הָֽאַרְבָּעִ֗ים לְצֵ֤את בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַֽחֲמִישִׁ֖י בְּאֶחָ֥ד לַחֹֽדֶשׁ: וְאַֽהֲרֹ֔ן בֶּן־שָׁל֧שׁ וְעֶשְׂרִ֛ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָ֑ה בְּמֹת֖וֹ בְּהֹ֥ר הָהָֽר:
They journeyed from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, at the edge of the land of Edom. Aaron the kohen ascended Mount Hor at the Lord's bidding and died there, on the first day of the fifth month in the fortieth year of the children of Israel's exodus from Egypt. Aaron was one hundred and twenty three years old when he died at Mount Hor. (Bamidbar 33:37-39)
As we wind down Sefer Bamidbar the Torah recounts the 42 journeys that Klal Yisrael took in the Midbar. As part of that narrative the Torah once again recalls the death of Aaron HaKohen (Aaron's death was already reported in Parshas Chukas). It is quite a curious repetition. The Torah did not repeat the Cheit HaEigel nor did it repeat the Cheit HaMeraglim. The Torah did not repeat the episode where Moshe hit the rock nor did it repeat the death of Miriam. What is different about the death of Aaron HaKohen that it is once again repeated in our Parsha?
It is also interesting to note that here the Torah records the exact date of Aaron's death. The first day of the fifth month. In other words, Aaron died on Rosh Chodesh Av. While we are aware of the yahrtzeits of our great leaders, we only know them based on calculations. Nowhere else in the Torah are we explicitly told of someone's day of death. What is the significance of the fact that Aaron HaKohen died on Rosh Chodesh Av? And why are we only told about it here in Parshas Masei and not in Parshas Chukas (ch. 20) when Aaron HaKohen actually died? In fact, Aaron's yahrtzeit is so significant that we find it has halachik implications. Although in general we do not fast on Rosh Chodesh, the Tur writes (OC 580) that righteous people are allowed to fast in honor of Aaron HaKohen’s yahrtzeit. Considering how important it is, it behooves us to understand the connection between Aaron HaKohen and Rosh Chodesh Av.
Another interesting discrepancy between our Parsha and Parshas Chukas where the Torah initially mentions Aaron HaKohen's passing is that here we are told that Aaron passed away עַל־פִּ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה, at Hashem's bidding. Rashi explains this to mean that Aaron died by misas neshika, divine kiss, a particular lofty form of death. Why does the Torah give us the detail only now? This seems like an important part of the story. Shouldn't it be included in the original narrative of Aaron's death back in Parshas Chukas?
The Torah records that Aaron HaKohen died at the age of 123. Torah comes from the word hora'ah which means teaching. What are we meant to learn from the fact that Aaron died at this particular age?
Immediately following the passing of Aaron HaKohen the Torah tells us:
וַיִּשְׁמַ֗ע הַכְּנַֽעֲנִי֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ עֲרָ֔ד וְהֽוּא־ישֵׁ֥ב בַּנֶּ֖גֶב בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן בְּבֹ֖א בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
The Canaanite king of Arad, who dwelt in the south, in the land of Canaan, heard that the children of Israel had arrived. (Bamidbar 33:40)
What exactly had the Caananite king heard? Rashi (quoting the Gemara in Rosh Hashana 3a) explains that the death of Aaron HaKohen had become well known because the Ananei HaKavod had withdrawn. Thinking that permission had now been granted to attack Klal Yisrael, the Canaanite king waged war. What was it about the death of Aaron that now made Klal Yisrael vulnerable to attack?
Finally, we are told that Aaron HaKohen is buried on הר ההר which literally means a mountain atop a mountain. Rashi (20:22) explains that it was so named because it was a little mountain on top of a big mountain. What is the significance of this particular shape? How is this place the ideal burial spot for Aaron HaKohen?
Seeing Through To The Essence
The Arizal teaches (Shaar HaGilgulim intro 33) that Aaron HaKohen is the gilgul of Avraham Avinu's brother Haran. Aaron and Haran have more or less the same name except for the Aleph in the beginning of his name.
In order to understand this connection let us review the story of Haran.
וַיָּ֣מָת הָרָ֔ן עַל־פְּנֵ֖י תֶּ֣רַח אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מֽוֹלַדְתּ֖וֹ בְּא֥וּר כַּשְׂדִּֽים:
And Haran died during the lifetime of Terah his father in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldees. (Bereishis 11:28)
Rashi, quoting the Medrash, explains that while Nimrod and Avraham Avinu debated Haran (who was 32 years older than his brother Avraham) sat on the sidelines. He calculated to himself that if Avraham were to emerge victorious then he would follow Avraham. If Nimrod wins he would follow him. Avraham Avinu passes through the fiery furnace of Nimrod unscathed and Haran declares that he is on team Avraham as it were. Haran too is then thrown into the furnace where he is burned to death. This is alluded to in the words בְּא֥וּר כַּשְׂדִּֽים as Ur means fire.
Why was Haran killed? He had made up his mind and courageously declared himself to be a student of Avraham Avinu. Why was he not worthy of a miracle as well? Where was his failure?
The Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 22) explains that the letters Hey, Reish and Nun are the "midlle" letters. Hey equals five which is half of the single digit letters. Nun equals fifty which is the half way point of the letters that represent multiples of ten. Reish equals 200 which is the half way point of the letters that represent hundreds (tav is the last letter and is equivalent to 400 which is the largest number).
Haran's name consists of all three "middle" letters and therefore indicates that he has the capacity to see into the inner essence of things. He was meant to look at our world and see the inner Godly essence that inheres within. Haran's decision to follow Avraham Avinu failed to live up to the standard of his own name. He did not go into the furnace because he recognized God in this world but because Avraham did. While it is impressive to declare allegiance to Avraham Avinu it does not make one worthy of a miracle.
In contrast to Haran, Aaron HaKohen has an Aleph in the front of his name. Aaron too has the capacity to see to the inner essence of this world. The Shem MiShmuel (Noach 5673) explains that letter Aleph (as the first letter in the Aleph Beis and with the gematria of one) is representative of the Alupho shel Olam, Hashem. The added Aleph in Aaron's name indicates that Aaron so through to the inner essence of all things in this world (hey, reish, nun) and connected them to their source in Shomayim (Aleph). (note: even the word Kohen is the gematria of seventy five, halfway between 70 and 80. Seven represents this world and eight represents the spiritual realm. The Kohen is the bridge between these two worlds connecting all things to their source in shomayim.)
Expressed a little differently, Aaron's name can be divided into three sections, the first aleph, the middle letters of Hey and Reish and finally the letter Nun. The Aleph, as we said, represents Hashem. The middle letters of Hey and Reish spell out the word Har, mountain. A mountain represents the half way point between heaven and earth. When Hashem gave the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai (Shemos 19) the pesukim constantly speak about Moshe Rabbeinu ascending the mountain and Hashem descending upon the mountain. With the actual giving of the Torah the passuk says, וַיֵּ֧רֶד יְהוָֹ֛ה עַל־הַ֥ר סִינַ֖י אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַיִּקְרָ֨א יְהוָֹ֧ה לְמשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָהָ֖ר וַיַּ֥עַל משֶֽׁה, The Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the peak of the mountain, and Moses ascended. The Torah which is meant to bridge heaven and earth is given on a mountain, the halfway point between the two. Finally the letter Nun is the letter that dips below the line which represents our world and even those elements in our world which are the extreme opposite of Kedusha. The name Aaron indicates the capacity to bridge even the lowest elements in our world and Hashem.
Understanding that Aaron HaKohen was able to see the inner Godliness in all of Hashem's creation, that he was able to bridge the gap between Creator and creation, allows us to examine one final dimension of Aaron's name. The letters Aleph, Hey and Reish stand for Ahavah Rabbah, unbounded love. The final letter of Nun, as we just mentioned, represents even the lowest elements of our world. Aaaron HaKohen, because he saw through to the Godly essence of every single Jew, was able to love all people regardless of their behavior.
With this in mind we can understand the statement of Chazal (Avos 1:12) which says:
הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:
Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving (God's) creations and drawing them close to the Torah.
Now in truth this is a difficult Mishna.
Where do we see in the Torah that Aaron HaKohen loved all Jews? The closest reference we have to this idea is found in Malachi (2:6) when the passuk says, בְּשָׁל֚וֹם וּבְמִישׁוֹר֙ הָלַ֣ךְ אִתִּ֔י וְרַבִּ֖ים הֵשִׁ֥יב מֵֽעָוֹֽן, In peace and equity he went with Me, and he brought back many from iniquity. It would seem difficult that from this passuk alone Hillel would describe Aaron as a lover and a pursuer of peace.
The language of אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, love God's creations, is also a difficult one. Why not say that Aaron loved people?
Lastly, why does the Mishna have to say be like the Talmidim of Aaron? Why not simply say that we should love and pursue peace?
However, once we understand that the essence of Aaron HaKohen was to see the Godliness inside of every person, the answers to these questions become obvious. The Medrash in Bamidbar Rabbah (18:8) tells us that in response to Korach's argument that he should be appointed Kohen Gadol, Moshe Rabbeinu answered that among the Nations of the World they have many Kohanim all gathered in one place. In contrast Jews have one God, one Torah, one system of justice and one Kohen Gadol. In other words, because Aaron HaKohen saw the inner Godliness of every person he understood that all of us are united. Our souls all share the same basic essence.
There is no passuk or story in the Torah that explicitly tells us that Aaron loved and pursued peace but it was known to everyone because this is the role of the Kohen Gadol. When he saw two people in a machlokes, Aaron saw it as his mission to reveal to them their inner unity. When Aaron HaKohen passed away the Torah tells us that the entire house of Israel wept for thirty days (Bamidbar 20:29). Rashi explains that Aaron was even more beloved than Moshe because when Aaron died both the men and the women mourned his passing since he had helped create shalom in many marriages. Aaron who saw through to the inner unity of all people could not bare to watch as people engaged in Machlokes.
(Chazal (Avos d'Rebbe Nossan 12:3) describe Aaron's unique method of achieving shalom. He would approach one of the parties involved in the machlokes and say, "The other individual is extremely distressed over the argument and is full of remorse. He said to me, 'How could I have hurt and shamed my friend? I hope he forgives me.'" In this manner, the first individual's animosity towards the second would dissolve. Aaron would then proceed to the second fellow and repeat what he had said to the first one. The next time these two would meet, they would embrace as friends.)
It is also no clear why Aaron is described as loving all of God's creations (as opposed to people). The Alter Rebbe explains that berios alludes to people who have no redeeming qualities other than the fact that they are Hashem's creations. Because Aaron's love flowed from the fact that he valued everyone's innate Godliness he was able to love even the greatest sinners.
Finally, it is now clear why we are instructed to be like the students of Aaron HaKohen. It is not enough to love and pursue peace. We must do with the same motivation that Aaron HaKohen did. Aaron did not simply put on act of love. He genuinely valued every person he encountered. This is the mission we are tasked with as a Mamleches Kohanim, a nation of priests. We must see the world in the same way that Aaron did, looking beneath the surface at the Godly soul that inheres within. The Ahavah Rabbah that we will have for all of Hashem's children, even those that have fallen beneath the line like the letter Nun, will unite us all.
Aaron and the Ananei HaKavod
Chazal teach (Taanis 9a) that Klal Yisrael merited to be surrounded by the Ananei HaKavod throughout their travels in the Midbar in the merit of Aaron HaKohen.
What is the connection between Aaron HaKohen and the Ananei HaKavod?
The Ananei HaKavod themselves symbolized the love of Aaron HaKohen. They surrounded every single Jew, regardless of their level of observance. Even those Jews who brought idols from Mitzrayim into the Midbar, were ensconced within the Ananim.
(The Ramchal (Derech Hashem Ch.4, 8:2) explains: "Besides the physical benefit of providing protection, the clouds of Glory also provided an important spiritual benefit. Just as through these clouds the Jewish people were set apart and elevated above the earth, likewise through the clouds they received the essence of illumination that dwelled solely on them. As a result they were separated from all the nations and elevated and removed from the physical world itself, towering over all the nations of the world." Thus we see that the Ananei HaKavod revealed the special relationship that Hashem has with Klal Yisrael.)
"This was done to enable Bnei Yisrael to attain the exalted level, which was meant for them.
The Alshich HaKadosh (Vayikra 23:33) points out that of the three miracles in the midbar, the maan, the be'er Miriam and the Ananei HaKavod, only the Ananim are commemorated with a Yom Tov (Succos - see Succah 11b which quotes Rebbe Eliezer that the Succah is a representation of the clouds of glory). The maan and the be'er were necessary for Klal Yisrael's survival as they had no food or water in the desert. In order to fulfill Hashem's will it was necessary for God to provide for us basic sustenance. Not so the Ananei HaKavod. The clouds provided Klal Yisrael with comfort. A respite from the scorching desert sun. Because they were not necessary for survival, the clouds were the ultimate expression of God's love for Klal Yisrael.
This explains why after the cheit hameraglim, when Moshe Rabbeinu is beseeching Hashem not to destroy Klal Yisrael he references the Ananei HaKavod as the passuk says:
וְאָֽמְר֗וּ אֶל־יוֹשֵׁב֘ הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּאת֒ שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ כִּֽי־אַתָּ֣ה יְהֹוָ֔ה בְּקֶ֖רֶב הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֑ה אֲשֶׁר־עַ֨יִן בְּעַ֜יִן נִרְאָ֣ה | אַתָּ֣ה יְהֹוָ֗ה וַֽעֲנָֽנְךָ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד עֲלֵהֶ֔ם וּבְעַמֻּ֣ד עָנָ֗ן אַתָּ֨ה הֹלֵ֤ךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם֙ יוֹמָ֔ם וּבְעַמּ֥וּד אֵ֖שׁ לָֽיְלָה:
They will say about the inhabitants of this land, who have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; that You, the Lord, appear to them eye to eye and that Your cloud rests over them. And You go before them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night, (Bamidbar 14:14)
Moshe Rabbeinu, as he begs Hashem to spare Klal Yisrael, is reminding Hashem, so to speak, of the boundless love that he has for us. The Ananei HaKavod, not the maan or the be'er, symbolized that love. Indeed, even after the cheit hameraglim, the clouds of glory continued to surround Klal Yisrael.
The Aruch HaShulchan uses this idea to answer a classic question. Logically, we should celebrate Succos shortly after Pesach. The Ananei HaKavod began to surround us immediately after our departure from Mitzrayim (see Targum Yonasan Bamidbar 33:5). Why then do we wait until Tishrei to celebrate Succos? While there are many answers to this question, most of them do not intrinsically relate the commemoration of the Ananei HaKavod to Tishrei. They suggest that the connection is merely practical: we want to remember the miracles of Mitzrayim in the other half of the year etc... (See Ramban Vayikra 23:43, Tur O.C. 625, Chizkuni Vayikra Ibid.) The Aruch HaShulchan suggests that because the Ananim represent Hashem's eternal love for Klal Yisrael it is appropriate to commemorate them only after Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur Klal Yisrael was forgiven for the cheit haeigel Despite the gravity of this sin Hashem forgave us and continued to ensconce us in the clouds of glory. Every year, after we are forgiven for the cheit haeigel on Yom Kippur, we sit in Succos that are reminiscent of the Ananei HaKavod which reminds us of God's unbounded love for Klal Yisrael.
As we said above, Aaron HaKohen loved every Jew because he saw the Godliness that inhered in every one of us. If we love the father we naturally love his children. When we experience the eternal love that Hashem has for every single Jew, even the greatest sinner, so too we are inspired to love every single Jew. It is appropriate then that the Ananei HaKavod which symbolized this message came in the merit of Aaron HaKohen who loved every single Jew.
(The holy Tzaddik Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin explains that the Ananei HaKavod was formed from the breath of the loving words that Klal Yisrael said to one another. Aaron HaKohen, as the pursuer of peace, ensured that those loving words were spoken. It was therefore in his merit that the Ananaei HaKavod surrounded Klal Yisrael.)
We are now ready to answer several of the questions we asked at outset.
When the Canaanite king had heard that Aaron HaKohen had died and the Ananei HaKavod departed he understood that permission had been granted to attack Klal Yisrael. What was it about the death of Aaron that now made Klal Yisrael vulnerable to attack? What is the significance of the shape of the mountain on which Aaron HaKohen was buried?
And what is the significance of Aaron dying at the age of 123?
Let us begin with the latter question. Chazal (Sofrim 16:12, Yerushalmi Shabbos 16:1) link Aaron's death at 123 years old to the minhag of reciting "Hallelukah" during Hallel 123 times. (see Rambam Hilchos Chanukah 3:12 who explains - based on the Gemara in Succah 38a,b - that the Minhag was for the Chazzan to say the first word of Hallel, Hallelukah, and for the Tzibbur to repeat it. The Chazzan would then say several words of Hallel and the Tzibbur would again respond Hallelukah. This would be repeated until Hallelukah was said 123 times.) Aaron HaKohen taught us to see the inner spark of Godliness in every single creation. In this way we heaven and earth are united as we learn to appreciate that no place is devoid of Him.
Since it was Aaron who taught us to appreciate Hashem in this world it is appropriate that when we praise Hashem in Hallel we do so in commemoration of Aaron HaKohen.
The power of Klal Yisrael comes from its state of unity. Not only in terms of our recognition of Godliness within this world but also in terms of the way we relate to each other.
The passuk states:
וַיְהִ֥י בִֽישֻׁר֖וּן מֶ֑לֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף֙ רָ֣אשֵׁי עָ֔ם יַ֖חַד שִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
And He was King in Jeshurun, whenever the sum total of the people were gathered, and the tribes of Israel were together, (Devarim 33:5)
דבר אחר, בהתאסף, בהתאספם יחד באגודה אחת ושלום ביניהם הוא מלכם, ולא כשיש מחלוקת ביניהם:
Another explanation: When Israel is gathered together in a unified group, and there is peace among them, God is their King-but not when there is strife among them. — [Sifrei 33:5]
When we live in peace as a unified group we are expressing that Hashem is our God. His oneness is reflected in our behavior towards each other. As the Yerushalmi states (Nedarim 9:4) all of Klal Yisrael is one body and every individual is another limb of this body. Just as one would not get angry at one of their own limbs so too one should not enter into a state of machlokes with another Jew. It is the equivalent of being in an argument with ones self. Only when we see the Godliness in each other will we have this worldview and with Hashem as king we are protected from external attack. (see also Bamidbar Rabba 15:14; see also Seforno Bamidbar 7:3)
As long as Aaron HaKohen was alive we would see every single Jew as the precious child of God. With such a worldview we were impervious to attack. Once Aaron HaKohen passed machlokes broke out in Klal Yisrael. The Canaanite King understood that we were vulnerable as our state of unity was no longer.
Finally, we can now understand why Aaron was buried on הר ההר which literally means a mountain atop a mountain. It is so named because it was a little mountain on top of a big mountain. Earlier we mentioned that the middle letters of Aarons name spell the word har, mountain. The mountain is the meeting place between God and man. Between the Alupho shel olam and even those Jews that have fallen below the line symbolized in the letter Nun. Aaron HaKohen would take the "little Jews" and raise them up to the top of the mountain drawing them close to Hashem. Fittingly the place of his burial resembled the life that he led. A little mountain atop a big mountain. The lowest Jews raised up and drawn closer to God. This was the way of Aaron HaKohen.
Rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash with Boundless Love
We can now understand why the Torah tells us now in Parshas Masei that Aaron HaKohen died via the divine kiss. The Gemara in Berachos (8a) tells us that there are 903 forms of death in this world. The harshest of the various deaths is called “Askara” (croup), the mildest form of death is Misas Neshika, the divine kiss of death. Askara is similar to thorns that are entangled in wool fleece which, when pulled out backwards, tears the wool. Others say that Askara is like ropes at the entrance to the esophagus, which would be nearly impossible to insert and excruciating to remove. In contrast, Misas Neshika is comparable to removing a hair from milk.
In other words, the Gemara is expressing that the pain of death depends on the extent that the soul has influenced the body. If the body remains a coarse animalistic body then the extraction process of the entangled soul is exceptionally painful. However, if the body has been purified and illuminated by the soul then the soul is easily extracted with no pain.
But as we examine this Gemara further there does seem to be an issue with the metaphor being used. Hair is always representative of the material world. Eisav is described as a hairy man. His place is at Har Seir, a mountain of hair. Why would Chazal compare the soul to hair? Surely there are other materials that are easily extracted from milk and would have been more appropriate symbolically as well.
Our descent into this world is for the purpose of revealing Godliness in every corner of the world. Even the places that seem to be totally devoid of Godliness contain Nitzotzos of Kedusha that we are meant to reveal. In so doing we turn our world into a dirah bitachtonim, a dwelling place for God. The highest achievement of the soul is when it finds God in the material world. It thus learns that God is not only present in the spiritual world but he infinitely present in even the lowest dimensions of our world as well. At this level the soul can even be identified with hair which is commonly identified with the material world. The hair (material world) no longer presents itself as antithetical to its creator but it has revealed its inner Godliness. There is no clash between the material and the spiritual. It follows then that such a soul will have a painless process of leaving the physical world. There is no extraction process. It is simply moving from one domain to the next.
This idea is embodied in the life Aaron HaKohen. Even in the coarsest people Aaron lovingly saw through to their inner Godliness. In this way he revealed their Nitzotz of Kedusha and enabled them to draw close to Hashem. But this did not only have an impact on the person who Aaron loved but even on Aaron himself. With each act of boundless love his soul became more deeply aware of Hashem's presence in our world. At the moment of his death he was taken like a hair from milk.
But in order for us to understand why this idea is only expressed in our Parsha and not in Parshas Chukas we must first understand the significance of Aaron's passing on Rosh Chodesh Av and why the Torah waits until this point to tell us the day of his passing.
The Gemara in Yoma (9b) teaches that the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Aaron HaKohen taught us the lesson of ahavas chinam, baseless love. He taught us not to love our fellow Jew because of their righteous behavior but simply because they are God's creations. In this fashion every single Jew, regardless of their behavior, is worthy of love. Had their been an Aaron HaKohen personality in the times of the second Beis HaMikdash surely Klal Yisrael would never have fallen into such a state. Indeed when the Gemara in Gittin (55b, 56a) recounts the story of how the Romans came to destroy Yerushalayim they seem to be critical of the Rabbonim of the time. Let us quickly recount that story.
There was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. This man made a large seuda and instructed his servant to invite his friend Kamtza. Mistakenly, the servant brought him his enemy bar Kamtza instead. The host was dismayed to find bar Kamtza at his seuda and asked him to leave. Bar Kamtza, embarrassed by his predicament, offered to pay for his food and drink so long as he is not thrown out of the party. The host refused his offer. Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half the seuda in return for being allowed to stay but once again his offer was rebuffed. Finally Bar Kamtza offered to pay for the entire Seuda but the host took him by his hand and led Bar Kamtza away from the seuda. The Gemara recounts that Bar Kamtza noticed several prominent Rabbonim who were witness to this event but said nothing as he was publicly humiliated. He inferred from their silence that they approved of the hosts behavior and this led him to inform the Roman king that the Jews rebelled against him.
It is interesting to note that it was not the behavior of the host that led Bar Kamtza to turn against Klal Yisrael. It was the Rabbonim who remained silent in the face of a bitter machlokes that was our undoing. The responsibility of Jewish leadership is to ensure unity and restore peace. This was the way of Aaron HaKohen who surely would have figured out a way for Bar Kamtza and the host to make shalom with each other. Our failure to be united led to our undoing.
Indeed we find that among the many reasons given for the destruction of Yerushalayim Chazal say (Shabbos 119b) that the churban occurred because we did not rebuke one another. In today's day and age this may be difficult to understand as we live in a society that tells us to live and let live but in truth appropriate rebuke is an act of love. It is a way of saying your actions matter and I care deeply about you. A parent rebukes their child not heaven forbid because they dislike the child but because they see it as part of their responsibility to love their child. The Rabbonim who did not rebuke the host for his behavior towards Bar Kamtza failed to love him. Had they seen his inner spark of Godliness as Aaron HaKohen would have then surely they would have felt obligated to find a way to stop his behavior and restore peace.
The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael 4) teaches that in contrast to the first Beis HaMikdash, the second Beis HaMikdash did not have an inherent השראת השכינה. Instead its strength came from the unity of Klal Yisrael. Whereas the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because Klal Yisrael engaged in bloodshed, idolatry and illicit relationships and Hashem's presence could not stay within such tumah, the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam. Since the power of the second Beis HaMikdash came not from the inherent indwelling of the Shechina but from our state of achdus, our failure to retain that achdus became our undoing.
In most years Parshas Masei falls out either on Rosh Chodesh Av or on Shabbos Mevarchim Av. In this way, Parshas Masei, and specifically the passing of Aaron HaKohen, prepare us for the avodah of this month. The Torah tells us that Aaron passed "biechad lachadoesh" on day one of the month. The word one is a reminder that Aaron HaKohen saw the oneness of every single Jew. He saw our source of unity above and sought to create oneness down below. The only recorded yahrtzeit in the Torah is that of Aaron HaKohen. The Torah does not record his yahrtzeit in Parshas Chukas but waits until Parshas Masei so that it may be connected to Rosh Chodesh Av. By recalling the loss of the ultimate pursuer of peace we ought to be inspired to follow Aaron's lead. By recalling that Aaron passed away with a Misas Neshika we are inspired to find God even in the coarsest of people. In this way not only will we elevate them but we will transform ourselves as well. And through the restoration of unity in Klal Yisrael we will merit to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash.
כֵּ֣ן תָּרִ֤ימוּ גַם־אַתֶּם֙ תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה מִכֹּל֙ מַעְשְׂרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּקְח֔וּ מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּנְתַתֶּ֤ם מִמֶּ֨נּוּ֙ אֶת־תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה לְאַֽהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּהֵֽן:
So shall you too set aside a gift for the Lord from all the tithes you take from the children of Israel, and you shall give thereof the Lord's gift to Aaron the priest. (Bamidbar 18:28)
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (90b) asks on this passuk, how could Bnei Yisrael ever give Terumah to Aaron when the Mitzvah to give Terumah applies only in Eretz Yisrael and Aaron HaKohen never entered into Eretz Yisrael? The Gemara explains that Aaron HaKohen will one day be resurrected and return to his position as Kohen Gadol in the third Beis HaMikdash, whereupon Bnei Yisrael will give him Terumah.
As we enter into the month of Av let us be inspired by the lesson of our teacher Aaron HaKohen. As we once again become his students we will seek out every Jew in love, recognizing their unique role as the precious child of God. In this way we will merit to see the resurrection of Aaron HaKohen and the rebuilding of the third Beis HaMikdash speedily in our times.