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Praise ought to be doled out in special cases and for special achievements. For instance, we may tell a friend how happy we are to see them and that they are with us. But we will not praise them for living and breathing, since this is not much of an achievement. Thus, the rather banal praise Aharon receives at the beginning of our parsha is strange. G-d tells Moshe to command him to light the Menorah and he does so.

And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light facing the middle lamp.’ And Aharon did so. He mounted the lamps facing the middle lamp as G-d had commanded Moshe. (Bamidbar 8:1-3).


Noting the seeming redundancy of singling out Aharon for listening to a mitzvah, the Sages (cited by Rashi) comment: “And Aharon did so: (This is taught) in order to tell the praise of Aharon, that he did not deviate (from the instructions he received).”

Does Aharon deserve special treatment for following basic rules? Aharon was a righteous man, a great tzaddik. No doubt every one of us would follow the details of a Divine command directed specifically at us – does Aharon deserve to be singled out for this? Truly, what else would we have expected?

Rabbi Menachem B. Sacks, one of the great American rabbis of the previous century and one of the key architects of Jewish life in Chicago in the mid-20th century, makes a brilliant suggestion in his excellent work of sermons and Torah commentary, Menachem Zion.

As we know, Aharon is not known for his love of truth. He is known for something else entirely. You may recall the lesson in Pirkei Avot: “Be from among the students of Aharon, a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace, one who loves people and brings them close to Torah” (Avot 1:12). Avot DeRabbi Natan explains the meaning of this comment, that Aharon loved and pursued peace, in a well-known elaboration on the theme:

Similarly, when two people were fighting with one another, Aaron would go and sit next to one of them and say: My son, look at the anguish your friend is going through! He rips his heart (into pieces) and tears his clothes. He is saying, “Oh, how can I face my friend? I am ashamed before him as I am the one who wronged him.” Aaron would sit with him until his outrage subsided. 

Then Aaron would go to the other person in the fight and say: My son, look at the anguish your friend is going through! He rips his heart (into pieces) and tears his clothes. He is saying, “Oh, how can I face my friend? I am ashamed before him as I am the one who wronged him.” Aaron would sit with him until he removed the outrage from his heart. 

And when the two people would see each other, they would embrace and kiss one another.

Aharon loved people and he loved peace among them. And in order to bring peace about, he often had to deviate from the truth.

Rabbi Sacks builds on this knowledge with the following insight:

Although Aharon was a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace and he permitted himself to deviate from truth because it was more peaceful, nonetheless, when it came to lighting the lamps… he did not permit himself to make any kind of change. 

We may indeed have been concerned that Aharon was a man of peace but not necessarily of truth; that he was a man of the people, but not of G-d; that he was detail-oriented and sensitive to the needs and feelings of his friends and community but that, when it came to rituals, he was less so.

This is not an unknown phenomenon. After all, helping others is a difficult and amorphous task, and everyone knows the law, in its rigid and demanding nature, can make our lives more challenging. So we may know of many who excel in one area but not the other. They may be fabulous servants of G-d in ritual matters, but insensitive and unkind when it comes to helping others, or they may be attuned to the needs and wishes of those around them, but not quite as punctilious when it comes to the observance of every jot and tittle of Jewish law.

Not so, the Torah tells us, was Aharon. Aharon, who was the greatest lover of G-d’s creatures, who sought peace and loved peace above any other, did not sacrifice the ritual; he did not cut corners in mitzvot, he did not close his eyes to his halachic responsibilities, and he did not deviate, even a little, from what he was commanded.

We must ask: How did Aharon become so wholesome, so whole, so well-rounded and right in character and behavior? If we consider the source of our own right-thinking and doing, we may gain some insight into how Aharon became so virtuous and how we might follow his example.

First: Whence comes the desire to do right by others? It may come from knowing the rules, from wanting to be good, from practice, even from coincidence. But it can also come from a sense of connection with others. From feeling that we are not a lone and distinct unit, something disconnected and divorced from the many people around us. Given our natural sense of feeling sympathy, connection, attachment, we wish to do well by others. We wish to help them, alleviate their pain, and make them smile. We cannot help feeling this way; it is something natural and good, found even in small children who cry when they hear others cry and comfort adults around them even when they have no idea what it is that hurts them.

And whence comes the desire to serve G-d? It can come from wanting to follow the rules, from wanting to avoid assimilation, from pure intellectual curiosity, from pride in being a Jew, from intellectual interest, or from nothing more than habit. But it can also come from the same exact place we described earlier – from the feeling that produces the desire to be kind to others. We so often feel so very distant from G-d, and thus we do not admit Him into our lives, we do not invite Him into our prayers and wishes and hopes, we do not think of Him as a personality demanding kindness, sympathy, loyalty! But Aharon felt the closeness of G-d, no less – and perhaps more – than he felt a sense of connection with others.

As we noted earlier, we often think there is a kind of dichotomy between the person who follows the rules and the person who loves people. We may think that these motivations come from two different places. We see here, however, that this need not be so at all. We may respond to G-d as a personality; we may worship, love, and have a meaningful relationship with Him. The study of Torah, prayer, and good and charitable acts create a spiritual dialogue between us and we may begin to feel a sense of responsibility towards Him because we have been drawn close. This responsibility would express itself in a detail-oriented performance of the commandments.

Aharon must have been such a person: a person who felt a strong connection to people and G-d, toward the Creator and His creations. He was so right, good, and wholesome because he felt so strongly a connection to those around him. His connection to others did not crowd out a feeling of connection to G-d. And his connection to G-d did not crowd out a sense of connection to others.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai once asked his students what path best leads to the World to Come.

Rabbi Eliezer came back and said: A good eye. 

Rabbi Yehoshua came back and said: A good friend. 

Rabbi Yosei came back and said: A good neighbor, good desires, and a good wife. 

Rabbi Shimon said: One who sees what is coming. 

Rabbi Elazar came back and said: A good heart toward Heaven, and a good heart toward others. 

[Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai] said to them: I prefer Rabbi Elazar ben Arach’s words, because I see all of your words contained within his words (Avot DeRabbi Natan 14).

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Yitzchak Sprung is the Rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOSH). Visit our facebook page or to learn about our amazing community. Find Rabbi Sprung’s podcast, the Parsha Pick-Me-Up, wherever podcasts are found.