When God orders Moshe to appoint Aharon to his new position in this week’s parsha (28:1), family ties seem highly pronounced. Aharon is described not only by name, but also as Moshe’s brother. But more revealing is the identification of Aharon’s four sons as his sons, by name and then once more as his sons – all in one verse.
Abarbanel notices the striking contrast here between Aharon’s line and Moshe’s line. For whereas there is an emphasis on the hereditary nature of Aharon’s office here, the thoughtful reader will be reminded about just the opposite nature of Moshe’s unique position, which – while formally passed on to his disciple, Yehoshua – really died with the man, Moshe. That being said, not even a small part of it was passed on to his sons.
Yet before we conclude that that this contrast favors Aharon, it is hard to forget that things did not end so well for him and his sons either. Indeed the mention in this verse of Nadav and Avihu seems more than a little ominous. The next time we will see their names in the Torah, it will be to tell us how they misused their prerogative as priests and were immediately killed by God. This almost certainly never would have happened had they not received the appointment we read about this week.
So who had it better, Moshe or Aharon? They both attained glory and they both saw tremendous disappointments. If Aharon saw a more devastating tragedy in the short term, this may well have been compensated in the long term by having the world’s longest priestly dynasty – not to mention the only one dedicated to intercede for the Jewish people with the Master of the Universe. On the other hand, which father would not give this all up if he knew that it could only be purchased by the premature death of even a single son, all the more so of two (and likely the most outstanding) of his sons? Would he have not preferred what we can assume was Moshe’s lot – for his sons to just be of the masses, but live full lives, father children and comfort him in his old age?
As several midrashim point out, however, personal joy is not really the point. Many of our greats often did not experience very much personal joy. And when they did – as Aharon must have at this point – it was subject to being completely uprooted almost at once.
It is true that God planted the urge within our nature to assist the wellbeing of our progeny and to take pride in their accomplishments. Yet, as Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once pointed out, it is important not turning them into trophies meant to inflate our own sense of accomplishment.
Moreover, what we learn from the case of Aharon’s children is that it is often the more responsible thing precisely to take risks with them. That is to say, were every father not willing to take the risks that we see so vividly coming through the priesthood, there would be no priests.
While we are thankfully not asked to repeat Avraham’s trial and actually do away with one’s only child, we are asked to raise our children for the service of God and the Jewish people. In almost no case does that mean becoming the high priest. In most cases, it does not mean becoming a rabbi, teacher or some other type of Jewish professional either. But in a world that where not everyone loves Jews, it always means being Jewishly engaged in such a way that engenders risks.
When I made Aliyah, it was exactly with this acceptance of risk in mind. I understood that in spite of the comforts of being defended by a Jewish army and Jewish police, Israel was likely to paradoxically remain the most dangerous place in the world for a Jew to live. So it wasn’t to escape the risks of being Jewish in the gentile world that I moved here, but rather to live the fullest Jewish life available in plain view of the risks involved. And this risk I took upon my children as well.
So while it is not a mitzvah to take risks, we must be prepared to take risks for a mitzvah. Hence Aharon may not have rejoiced had he seen the outcome of the extra role that was being placed on all of his progeny, but he almost certainly would have understood that this would be counted as his contribution to God’s plan. In a world that pushes personal joy more than should make us comfortable, we need to at least understand that it is not a value around which we should be organizing our lives.