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In the Ways of Aaron
The first of Av marks the day of passing of Aaron the High Priest. The date of his passing is mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, Maasei—the only yahrtzeit mentioned specifically in the Torah.

For more than 40 years, Aaron led the Jewish people alongside his brother Moses. He passed on with a loving kiss from G-d and was interred in Mount Hor Hahar. The Torah relates that Aaron’s passing was devastating for the Jewish people. Men, women and children alike mourned him for 30 days.

Our sages say that there was a special deep connection between Aaron and the Jewish people. He enveloped them with love and they returned his affection. In addition to his work as a High Priest in the Mishkan (tabernacle), Aaron spent his days making peace between couples, friends and neighbors. As he would pass through the camp he would greet each person with a friendly smile, ask with genuine interest how they were doing and strive to help people resolve their petty arguments and complaints.

In addition, one of the primary tasks of the High Priest was to bless the Jewish People. The priestly blessing contains a special wish—“May G-d shine His countenance upon you and grant you peace.” No evil or intrigue can prevent the priestly blessing from reaching its mark. The kohanim must be permeated with love when they recite the blessing. If any Kohen has negative feelings towards any member of the congregation, he is forbidden to recite the blessing.

The importance of love also comes up in the portion of Matot, which relates the story of the war with Midian. This war was different from other wars in that it was not intended to conquer territory. Its sole purpose was to “avenge G-d.” According to G-d’s decree, Moses gathered thousands of soldiers in order to exact retribution from Midian.

What exactly was Midian’s sin? Chassidic teachings explain that the word Midian has the Hebrew word of madon, strife. The entire nation is a symbol of friction and senseless hatred, and therefore G-d declared war against them. Senseless hatred caused the destruction of the Holy Temple and the descent into exile. It is G-d’s personal enemy.

Rosh Chodesh Av marks the beginning of the second stage of the days of mourning for the two Holy Temples that were destroyed. During the first nine days of the month of Av, we observe more severe mourning customs, including not eating meat or drinking wine.

Our sages say that the first Holy Temple was destroyed because of idol worship, adultery and bloodshed. The second Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred. Yet the first Temple was rebuilt after 70 years, while the second Temple has yet to be restored—2000 years later. From this we see how seriously G-d regards the sin of hatred and strife.

During these days of mourning, it is appropriate to especially emphasize our unity and to avoid conversations or activities that will stir up controversy and conflict. Let us strive to go in the footsteps of Aaron, who “loved peace and pursued peace, loved all creatures and brought them close to Torah.” Through replacing senseless hatred with senseless love, we will usher in the era of Moshiach, a time of eternal peace.


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