Parshas Chukas reports the demise of Aaron and tells us that the whole Jewish Nation cried, mourning his passing. Rashi notes that the verse says (20:29) that the “entire nation” cried over the loss, as opposed to the verse describing the passing of Moses where it only says the nation cried.
Rashi says that something unique took place. Aaron excelled at restoring peace between people. He was famous for mediating between parties in conflict, including stressed marital relationships between husbands and wives, and bringing them together in harmony. Therefore, his passing was taken especially hard by all, including the women, who now lost the one who was at the forefront of restoring peace in people’s homes.
This special character trait Aaron possessed stands as an example for us all to learn from. The Mishnah says (Avos 10:12), “Hillel says, ‘One should be from the students of Aaron: loving peace and chasing after peace.’” Our Sages tell us (Avos D’Rabbi Nosson, chapter 24) that one of the tactics Aaron used was that he would approach each of the parties in conflict and tell them how the other one regrets the strife and wishes to make peace. This would cause the two sides to feel remorseful over the conflict and become reunited.
Rabbi Nissim Kaplan tells about how he decided to follow in the footsteps of Aaron. He once attempted Aaron’s trick to unify two people embroiled in a fight, but the reaction he got was, “Who do you think you are, Aaron Hakohen?!” He learned from this experience that being of the students of Aaron may require creativity in coming up with new ways of making peace.
On a different occasion, he had heard about two groups who were in a bitter fight. He realized that if he attempted to reconcile the two sides in the capacity of a famous rabbi, he might not succeed. Instead, he posed as a businessman and approached the leaders of the two parties with an offer. He wanted to purchase the “rights” to the feud. He offered each side a sizable amount of money for which in exchange they would both give up their “rights” to be involved in the quarrel. The negotiations were successful and a contract was conjured in which everyone agreed to cease their involvement in the dispute and be at peace with each other going forward. Rabbi Kaplan paid them with his own money, and thus ended the bitter fight.
At first, it might sound a little extreme to invest your own money in bringing peace between two parties unrelated to you. This is only because we don’t realize just how valuable it is to bring peace between our fellow Jews.
Our Sages tell us (ibid) that even if one must run from city to city and from country to country in order to gain peace between people, one should do so, because the value of bringing peace is equal to all the other Mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah! The Chida writes (Ma’agal Tov) about how he once spent a few months negotiating peace between people, and says (Tziporen Shamir, 9:134), “One should exert himself to utilize his thought, speech and actions to restore peace between man and his friend, and husband and wife, with a mouth softer than butter and sweeter than honey, and increase peace. He should start with himself, having peace in his home and peace with his acquaintances.”
It’s not enough to admire Aaron. Hillel was talking to every one of us. We are instructed to emulate Aaron by making the pursuit of peace a top priority, and actively working to bring harmony to our people. The first place we must start is with ourselves, as stated by the Chida. Many times, making peace does not require hefty sums of money or extensive travel. More often than not, it’s just a matter of swallowing one’s pride. We are all familiar with the stubborn voice inside us insisting, “How can you let him get away like that?! You can’t just forgive her and move on after she spoke to you like that! You’re just going to smooth things over without receiving an apology after what he did to you?! You have to stand up for yourself!”
Yes, it’s extremely difficult to get past these feelings and work towards a peaceful resolution when we feel we were wronged. But as hard as it may be, the Mitzvah of making peace is that much more valuable! There is no limit to how far one should go to accomplish restoring peace. In addition to our own relationships, it is important to emulate Aaron and search for ways, when possible, to bring peace between other Jews who may be embroiled in conflict.
Parshas Chukas by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)