A young man was in the process of registering his son in a local yeshiva. Before he finished the process, he received a phone call from an irate relative who proceeded to list a plethora of virulent complaints against that particular yeshiva. The man replied that, although he felt pained that his relative had had such a difficult experience with the yeshiva, he did not see how it would affect him. But the relative was persistent and he continued to badger him, saying that if he enrolled his son in that yeshiva it would be a personal affront to him. Over the next few weeks, the relative repeatedly called until the man made it clear his decision was final.
A few days later the young man was contacted by his rebbe, Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, who explained that he had received a phone call from the relative. “I was shocked by the conversation; it was absolutely astounding!” The man was sure that Rav Pam was shocked by the man’s irrationality. But Rav Pam actually said, “I was shocked to realize the depth of human sensitivity” and said that he could not get over just how personally affected one could be by a negative experience, to the point where he becomes nonsensical and unreasonable.
Rav Pam advised his student to seek an alternative yeshiva that would be suitable for his son. In this way, even if he was unsuccessful he could at least mollify his relative by telling him that he had tried. This would demonstrate sensitivity to his pain and show him that he took his feelings seriously. Rav Pam concluded, “You will see that by seeking a path of peace, you will be blessed with success.”
The lengthy sojourns of Bnei Yisrael were nearing completion. Yet, the pangs and challenges of their journey were far from over. “The Canaanite King of Arad, who dwelled in the south, heard that Israel had come by the route of the spies, and he warred against Israel and took a captive from it” (21:1). The Medrash explains that the attackers were actually a battalion of Amalekites, the nemesis of Klal Yisrael. In order to prevent the Jews from praying for victory, the Amalekites spoke the language of the Canaanites. They hoped that the Jews would erroneously pray for salvation from Canaanites and, since they were not Canaanites, the prayers would be ineffective and the Amalekites would be victorious. However, as Bnei Yisrael were confused by attackers who spoke the language of Canaan, but were garbed like Amalekites, they davened for salvation from “this nation” and prevailed.
What exactly did King of Arad hear that gave him the confidence to attack? The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 3a) explains, “They heard that Aharon had died and the Divine Clouds of Glory had departed and that they [therefore] had permission to wage war against Israel.”
The Ateres Mordechai, Rabbi Mordechai Rogov, zt”l, explains that Aharon was the paragon and champion of peace in Klal Yisrael. As long as he was alive there was a strong sense of peace and brotherhood in the Jewish camp. Amalek, our ultimate foe, understood that when unified, we are invincible and indestructible. But now that Aharon had died Amalek thought our impenetrable defenses were breached.
In Tehillim (29:11) Dovid HaMelech writes, “Hashem will give strength to His Nation; Hashem will bless His Nation with peace.” Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two statements is to demonstrate that in order to merit the blessing of peace one must possess inner strength and fortitude. At times a person must be willing to forego his dignity and ego, sometimes he must be willing to forfeit money due to him, and sometimes he must allow himself to be inconvenienced. However, Chazal assure us that in the long run it will be worthwhile.
It is very difficult to “let go.” But the feeling of inner strength and the blessing of peace will over-compensate the ego one loses by giving in. In order to bless His nation with peace, G-d must give us the strength to pursue it properly.
The vernacular of the Mishna is very particular. It states that a disciple of Aharon loves peace and then he pursues it. One must have an affinity for peace and appreciate its psychological, physiological, and mental benefits. Above all, one must realize its spiritual blessings and the pleasure that it brings to G-d, as it were, when His children are at peace with one another. If one does not love peace then he will not be able to adequately pursue it. After all, why should a person admit defeat or error when he is indeed right? A lover of peace is willing to forego his “rightness” for the sake of peace.
The Ateres Mordechai continues that after the death of Aharon, divisiveness and enmity crept into the Jewish camp and the Clouds of Glory dissipated. At that point, Amalek realized Klal Yisrael’s vulnerability and mounted an attack.
In Eicha (1:3), Yermiyahu HaNavi laments, “All of her pursuers overtook her ‘bayn hamtzarim’ between the boundaries.” The Ateres Mordechai explains that this is a reference to Klal Yisrael’s disunity. When people became particular about their boundaries and would not allow neighbors to walk on their property, it was then that they became vulnerable to their enemies and were defeated.
Similarly, the pasuk in Bereishis (12:7) states, “There was a quarrel between the shepherds of the cattle of Avram and the shepherds of the cattle of Lot; the Canaanites and P’reezites were then in the land.” What does the presence of the Canaanites and P’reezites in the land have to do with the feud of Avram’s and Lot’s shepherds? It was the quarreling and disunity that allowed the foreigners to have dominance over the land.
This message has not changed throughout our exile: When there is peace among the descendants of Avraham, we have complete sovereignty over our land and ourselves. But when we harbor pangs of hatred and resentment against each other, we are subject to the domination, or at least the influence, of external authorities.
Rav Pam observed that Korach rebelled against Moshe because he recognized that the great leader Shmuel would descend from him. Had Korach not been overcome with jealousy, his prophetic vision would have impelled him to become a more ardent follower of Moshe so that he would be a worthy ancestor of his esteemed progeny. However, his evil character traits overwhelmed him and he turned his vision into a catalyst for disaster.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Aharon HaKohain, the quintessential man of peace, whose position Korach coveted. Aharon merited to be the High Priest and to wear the golden chest-plate above his heart because it was filled with love for his people. In fact, when he was informed that his younger brother Moshe was to become the leader of Klal Yisrael, he was overwhelmed with joy. A heart that harbors no jealousy or resentment is worthy of wearing the Divine Names close to it (Shemos Rabbah 3:17).
Parshas Chukas is invariably read in the month of Tammuz, when the three weeks that mark our mourning of the destruction of the Batei Mikdash begins. The Gemara relates that Bayis Sheini was destroyed on account of baseless hatred. Thus, our ultimate redemption is contingent on our efforts to rectify that wrong which is still rampant in our hearts. However, this is far easier said than done.