Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, May 28 - 29

Torah reading: Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16)
Candle Lighting Time 8:00 PM
Shabbat ends 9:08 PM 

Pirkei Avot Chapter 2

Say No To Change?          

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Biblical text can be found in this week’s parsha. Aaron, Moses’ brother, was commanded to kindle the Menorah—the seven branched candelabrum. The Torah reports that indeed, “Aaron did as he was commanded.” If this statement was not obvious, Rashi, adds: “This comes to teach us that he did not alter [any of G‑d’s instructions].” In other words, the Torah goes out of its way to tell us that Aaron complied with the commandment he was given by G‑d concerning the lighting of the Menorah.

Isn’t it incredible that the Torah has to tell us that Aaron—Moses’ equal in many respects; one of the holiest and spiritually sensitive people that ever lived—is to be praised for not deviating from a commandment given to him by G‑d!

In past Torah messages we have offered several explanations for this. What follows will be a new two tiered approach to this question that will provide us with a powerful lesson as to our role in G‑d’s world.

Aaron, among his many virtues, was known for his obsession with peace. Aaron would go from home to home to make peace between husband and wife. He would also help heal breaches between quarrelling friends.

To achieve his goal of making peace, the Talmud tells us that he would “tweak” the truth somewhat. He would tell each party how sorry the other was, and that each one had such high regard for the other, etc. etc. – though the people involved had not in fact voiced such feelings or opinions about the other. When the two would meet, all the animosity they possessed for each other would dissolve and their relationship restored to its original position.

Indeed, from Aaron’s efforts at peace, a precedent was established. Jewish law rules that one may tell a “white lie” in order to preserve the peace.

Needless to stress, Judaism maintains the highest regard for truth. “G‑d’s seal is truth,” our Sages teach us. And the Torah itself is characterized as “Torat Emet-the Torah of truth.” We are also commanded to “distance ourselves from falsehood.” Nevertheless, in certain limited cases, such as for the promotion of peace, we may bend the truth. Peace overrides truth.

One might have thought that Aaron, who was accustomed to compromising the truth, albeit to facilitate peace, might have internalized ever so subtly this undesirable trait of inconsistency. He might have subconsciously altered certain aspects—either the physical manner or the proper meditative exercises he was supposed to have in the performance—of the Menorah lighting ceremony.

The Torah therefore tells us that we should disabuse ourselves of this thought. Aaron’s integrity and commitment to truth and consistency was beyond reproach. In fact, what appeared to be a ‘white lie” in the pursuit of reconciliation was reserved for that purpose exclusively. It did not extend itself to other areas of life because it was not a result of a personality flaw, but rather from his understanding of the preeminent position peace held in the hierarchy of Torah values.

Furthermore, Aaron’s “white lies” were not really distortions of the truth at all. On the contrary, it was a reflection of a deeper truth. Aaron was able to see beneath the surface of these adversaries and realize that their animosity towards each other was only on the surface. Remove the surface rust and one reveals a pure, caring and loving soul that craves friendship and peace. If they were truly such bitter enemies, no lie would succeed in altering their feelings.

Aaron was thus not lying about these two former adversaries; he was merely removing the façade of anger. That anger was actually the lie.

And this is where the Torah informs us that Aaron’s “altering” of the truth, his apparent inconsistencies, were not internalized within him and were not reflective of a flawed person who could not be trusted, G‑d forbid. He was fully capable of maintaining the highest standards of consistency and integrity without the slightest tinge of compromise when it came to lighting the Menorah. It attested to the fact that although, on the surface, it seemed that his penchant for peace overrode his fidelity to truth and consistency, the reality was that Aaron’s devotion to the highest standards of truth was impeccable.

On a deeper level, one can understand why Aaron had to praised for his following instructions based on the diverse roles of Aaron and Moses.  According to the Zohar, Aaron and Moses represented two opposite movements and approaches towards uniting G‑d and the Jewish people:

Moses is referred to as the “Escort of the King” and Aaron as the “Escort of the Queen.” Moses brought the word of G‑d—the King—down to the people, while Aaron’s role was to escort the people—the “queen”—and bring them closer to G‑d.

G‑d is the epitome of truth and consistency. The Prophet thus declares: “I am G‑d, I have not changed.”

We, by definition, are products of constant change. Any creation of G‑d, in and of itself, is constantly changing. Only through the observance of Torah and its Mitzvot can we introduce an element of G‑dly truth and consistency in our lives.

Moses, chosen by G‑d as the conduit of G‑dly truth, was easily identified as a source of truth. Moses could easily be unbending and unyielding in his demands of fidelity to the law. Moses could not tolerate the slightest hint of insubordination to the will of G‑d. To be sure, Moses was consumed with love for the Jewish people and was even willing to die to save them from punishment. But in his role as G‑d’s “spokesman,” he personified truth and absolute commitment to the most minute details of G‑d’s will.

Aaron, by contrast, as the representative of the people, had to know and feel where the people were coming from. He had to—if he was to be true to his life’s mission as the escort of the queen—experience their flaws, pettiness, foibles, and vacillations. He could not possibly be an agent of the people to bring them closer to G‑d if he did not empathize with them and get down to their level as a way of raising them up. It was his mission in life to take the people from their position in life and work with them.

By definition then, Aaron – in order to understand the nature of a flawed person – had to lower himself down to the level of a flawed person. He went down into their realm in order to be able to pick them up.

Aaron was thus involved—albeit reluctantly and inadvertently—in the creation of the golden calf. Not, G‑d forbid, that he sanctioned it, but that he could not resist it with the same intensity of a Moses, or his nephew Chur, whom the rebellious idol worshippers murdered when he protested their efforts.

One would have therefore entertained the notion that Aaron was incapable of maintaining the highest order of discipline because he represented, empathized and indentified with undisciplined people. Aaron, we might have thought, was comfortable with the rebels whom he loved and cared for so much. Aaron, we could have entertained the notion, might not follow orders with precision, because that was not his G‑d given forte. His job was to be part of the chaotic and anarchistic community and work some order and holiness into it.

And now Aaron was asked to follow a rigidly prescribed ritual through which he would bring light to the Jewish people, represented by the seven branches of the Menorah. Aaron could have very easily rationalized changing things to make “his” crowd feel a little more at ease with a relaxation of the rules.

The Torah, therefore, emphatically declares: “Aaron did exactly as he was commanded.” His association with the flaws in the Jewish people did not allow him to water down the rules with regard to the way we bring  light into the minds, hearts and souls of the Jewish people. He lit the Menorah and thereby ignited the souls of all the Jews without the slightest bit of compromise.

This explains the words of Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers: “Be like the students of Aaron; love peace and pursue peace; love all creatures and bring them close to the Torah.” The Rebbe pointed out repeatedly: It does not say bring the Torah close to them by watering it down and compromising its standards. It says to bring the people close to the Torah. Raise them to a higher level. Let them see the truth of G‑dly knowledge and they will embrace it, step by step.

The above has a direct bearing on the Jewish approach to the Messianic Age. Unlike other belief systems, Judaism does not believe that the Messiah will change the Torah, or alter it in the slightest. On the contrary, Moshiach’s task is to ignite the spark of Jewishness in each and every one of us so that we get closer to the teachings of the Torah.

And while the Messianic Age is the age of true peace—not the ephemeral, and deceptive version, the sound of which is so intoxicating—it does not have to come at the expense of truth and integrity. The Messianic Age will demonstrate that in their most essential and potent state truth and peace are not mutually exclusive.

The two liberators of the Messianic Age—Elijah and the Moshiach—it is stated in the Midrash, are said to represent the twin virtues of truth and peace, respectively. Indeed, there are ample sources that speak of Moshiach’s relationship to truth and Elijah’s role as a peacemaker, because, in reality they are complementary.    

Moshiach Matters  

Continued from last week - This suggests that Maimonides sees the Messianic age as consisting of two eras. In the first era, immediately following the coming of the Messiah, the world will remain in its natural state. The Messiah will not be accepted based on whether or not he performs supernatural feats, but based on whether or not he brings peace to the world, gathers the Jews to the Land of Israel, and rebuilds the Holy Temple. He will change the natural world as we know it into a place that lends itself to the complete fulfillment of the Torah and its precepts. In a later era, the era of the resurrection of the dead, the nature of the world will indeed change. Only then will all the supernatural phenomena prophesied in the Bible and by our sages occur.  - from
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