Parshat Beha'alosecha: In Praise of Aharon

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May 28 2010

Parashas Beha'alosecha begins with God instructing Moshe tell Aharon about the new mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. Immediately thereafter we are told, "vaya'as ken Aharon," that Aharon did just that, kindling the Menorah for the very first time (Bamidbar 8:3).

Rashi, based on the Sifre, explains that aside from describing what occurred, this pasuk is also intended "le'haggid shivcho shel aharon she'lo shinah," as praise for Aharon because he did not deviate from the instructions conveyed to him.

Many later commentators are bothered by the straightforward understanding of Rashi. After all, why make such a big deal about Aharon following Hashem's directions, did we expect anything less? If anything it seems like we are damning him with faint praise - is there nothing better we can say about Aharon Ha-Kohen than that he listened to a direct command from Hashem?

Numerous answers to this problem have been offered and each one provides insight, not only into the greatness of Aharon, but also into the challenges we all face in serving Hashem.

Rabbi Efrayim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim al Ha-Torah) suggests that, upon further consideration, not deviating was actually a significant accomplishment. R. Greenblatt explains Rashi's comments in light of the well-known description of Aharon as someone who loved and pursed peace and brought people closer to Torah (Pirkei Avos). In a sense, Aharon was the forerunner of the contemporary "kiruv professional."

R. Greenblatt notes that an assumption is often made when pursuing the "higher goal" of attracting unaffiliated Jews that certain liberties may be taken with the person's own mitzvah observance. This is a terrible mistake. While it's undoubtedly correct that Torah concepts have to be presented to the uninitiated in an attractive and palatable manner, nevertheless that does not mean that there is a magic "hetter kiruv" that allows flouting all standards. On the contrary, "lo shinah," despite whatever pressures or temptations he may have felt, Aharon pursued his goal of bringing people closer to Torah without changing or compromising his own standards. Understood in this light we can certainly appreciate why Aharon deserved praise.

The Sefas Emes offers a different explanation and suggests that when Rashi declares that the statement "lo shinah" it wasn't a reference to Aharon's behavior but to Aharon himself. He explains that - amazingly - Aharon maintained the same level of excitement and enthusiasm that he felt the first time he lit the Menorah throughout the rest of his life.

The first time we perform a mitzvah there is a natural hislahavus, excitement, which comes from doing something new. But for most people most of the time the passion wanes with the passage of time and as the mitzvah is performed repeatedly. The greatness of Aharon is that he overcame this instinct; he was able to approach the Menorah each day with the same level of excitement that he felt the very first time he lit it.

This is certainly an extraordinary achievement deserving of recognition. When we think about how many times we have performed certain mitzvos - daily davening, weekly Shabbos obligations, annual holiday rituals - it's certainly worth considering whether we live up to the lofty standard set by Aharon. It's not easy, to be sure, but Aharon remains a role model for sustained passion in mitzvah observance.

A third approach, proposed by Reb Meir of Premishlan, also focuses on Aharon's personality, but unlike the Sefas Emes, Reb Meir focuses on Aharon's humility. He explains that despite the honor of being Kohen Gadol and the privilege of lighting the Menorah every day, nevertheless "lo shinah," Aharon didn't let his prominent position change who he was. Despite the prestige of his office Aharon remained humble, maintaining his pleasant and "down to earth" demeanor.

By going out of its way to praise Aharon, the Torah is, in essence, acknowledging just how great a nisayon it is for those blessed with success to remain grounded and unchanged by that success. We all know people who have accomplished great things and have changed as a result. No one and no accomplishment is immune from this nisayon. Aharon's success at overcoming this challenge is an inspiration for all of us.

In light of these explanations we can now truly appreciate the greatness that the Midrash and Rashi are highlighting. Whether it was his uncompromising standards, his sustained passion for mitzvah observance, or his consistent humility, the fact that he was "lo shinah" is certainly "le'haggid shivcho shel Aharon," truly great praise of Aharon Ha-Kohen.


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