Chukas- The Petirah of Aharon

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In this week’s Parsha we learn about the Petirah of Miriam and Aharon, and the results of their demise. The Petirah of Miriam causes the temporary loss of the Be’er, and of Aharon the Ananei HaKavod. I would like to examine the Petirah of Aharon, and what causes it and what are the results.

The Petirah of Aharon comes immediately after an unusual overture that Moshe and Klal Yisroel make to Edom. As they approach the border of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe sends messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to traverse his land. The response is negative, and even more than that. The nation of Edom gathers for battle in order to prevent Klal Yisroel from travelling through their land on their way to Eretz Yisroel, and Klal Yiroel under the direction of HaShem does not enter the land of Eisav.

The next Pesukim describe in detail the Petirah of Aharon and the transfer of the Kehuna Gedola to Elazar, his son. When Aharon dies the Ananei HaKavod which were in his merit disappeared[1], and Klal Yisroel now seems to be open to attack. As a result Klal Yisroel is attacked by a nation whose identity is unclear. Chazal tell us that it is actually Amalek, the descendant of Eisav. In the first battle Amalek manages to capture one person, which is viewed as a major defeat. Klal Yisroel makes a Neder that if they overcome this nation they will destroy their cities. They succeed, destroy their cities, and name the place Charma.

Rashi[2] tells us that Aharon died because we made an overture to Edom, and our actions were incorrect, and the Tzadik was lost. What I would like to try to understand is the connection that Chazal are making here. Why is this the place to learn this idea (even though there are other places where this idea is taught); and what is the connection between a peace treaty with Edom and specifically the death of Aharon? And then how does that lead to a battle with Amalek, the grandson of Edom?

There is a general principle that the travels through the desert[3]; which is described in the Chumash as a place of snakes, vipers, and scorpions, was also a spiritual journey for the nation and the individual. The forty two stops on this journey described in Parshas Masei, are also spiritual layovers in the national journey of the Jewish people, and of each individual. The snakes etc. are an outgrowth of the original snake that everyone has to overcome. It was to overcome those dangerous and seemingly not viable parts of the world, and utilize them correctly through the Torah that we specifically travelled here immediately after receiving the Torah. (That also explains the tremendous tests and downfalls of Klal Yisroel in the desert.) If so what was the specific purpose of trying to travel through the land of Edom?

It would seem that even though Moshe and Aharon were just told that they cannot enter the Eretz Yisroel that did not absolve them the responsibility for Klal Yisroel. And if the journey through the desert is to show that the Torah has the ability to cause the desert to ‘bloom’, then the place to show this the most is in the land of Edom[4]. As the Pasuk says they send messengers from Kadesh, a place of holiness, to the king of Edom- allow us to pass through your land. Let us eat your food, and travel your highways. Edom has tremendous potential Kedusha since they are descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Rivka. This journey is to reinstitute that part of the Kedushah of Edom.

However, when trying to accomplish something like this there is a very rigidly defined boundary. Trying to use Kedusha to rectify Eisav is potentially dangerous. Calling Eisav, “my brother”, went over that line[5]. That is what caused the demise of Aharon. The result of that lack of boundary between us and Eisav caused the disappearance of what separated Klal Yisroel from the rest of the world, the Ananei HaKavod. As a result, the descendant of Eisav, Amalek, can enter into the camp of Klal Yisroel and even take a captive. The only way to overcome this is to be completely disassociated and swear to that we are not only not brothers anymore, but to destroy the nation that thinks it can enter our camp.

This is the outline of what is taking place. But there is more to clarify.

The Torah, especially after the second Luchos has two components. The source is Torah Sh’Bichtav which is the complete Emes. That is Yakov, whose Midah is Emes. The other part is Torah Sh’bal Peh which is learnt by argument and striving through that to reach Emes. That is the proper use of the Midah of war of Eisav. In fact most of the words in Chazal for studying Torah Sh’bal Peh are variations on battle. In the contrast between Yakov and Eisav, Yakov is the concept of Emes of Torah Sh’Bichtav, and Eisav is the man of conflict, Torah Shb’al Peh. That is the meaning of the sword of Eisav in its correct sense. When Yakov purchases and takes on the Kedusha of Eisav, Klal Yisroel now has both parts. That is why many of the proponents of Torah Sh’Bal Peh are Geirim, specifically from Eisav; i.e. Onkelos, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Meir for example.

This same split is also true between Moshe, and Aharon and Miriam. Moshe is obviously the source of all the Torah. But Moshe in order to ascertain the truth of the Torah only needs to ask HaShem, as we find in the matter of Pesach Sheni and Bnos Tzlafchad. He is Torah Sh’bChtav, which obviously remains as it was given throughout the generations. Aharon is already relevant to Torah Sh’bal Peh. The Kohanim teach the Torah to the generations. When Moshe dies, there is no continuation; no one can take his place. But Torah Sh’bal Peh continues through the generations, and is the Mesorah that is passed on. That is why the there is a process of the continuity of the Mesorah from Aharon to Elazar here; as opposed to Moshe whose demise is only ’witnessed’ by HaShem.

When Klal Yisroel travels through the desert at this point they attempt to rejoin the power of Eisav to them. They encamp in Kadesh, representing a place of holiness. And from such a place of safety they send a message to Eisav, let us reconnect our two parts. But whenever you try to co-opt a bad midah to good, there is the boundary you need to be clear about. Calling Eisav ‘brother’ is too much and Eisav can then affect you. They wanted to bring into Klal Yisroel the Midah of Eisav, but instead Eisav uses his Midah of battle to not clarify Torah but to go to war against Klal Yisroel. As a result the punishment is to lose Aharon, the representative of Torah Sh’bal Peh.

That is why, this is when Aharon is lost, the Aneini HaKavod disappear. The separation between us and the world around us disappears allowing Amalek to attack, and even take a prisoner[6]. Rashi teaches us that that the prisoner was one maidservant. What does that mean? Those are the physical parts of the world that are meant to serve Klal Yisroel to serve HaShem. But when there are no Aneini HaKavod even the Mitzvoth and Torah can be taken by Amalek, for his purposes. The Kohen Gadol knows the boundary, how to use the physical parts of the world to bring before HaShem. When Klal Yisroel realizes this they understand that the only way to deal with Eisav is Charma- destruction.

That is the meaning of a cryptic Midrash: And they make a Neder- ‘Nun’ which equals 50 and “Der”[7]. That is the word the Torah uses. That word is extra in the Pasuk. The ‘Nun’ is referring to the fiftieth level. The highest level of understanding of the Torah is to reach the fiftieth gate. Amalek is the opposite. They are the fiftieth level of anti-Torah. The only way to overcome them is through the Neder which binds a person to the fiftieth level[8].

I would like to add one possible other area of correlation. Aharon dies on Hor HaHar, the mountain on top of a mountain. Rabbi Akiva the paragon of Torah Sh’bal Peh teaches Tilei Tilim- mounds upon mounds- of Halcha. Maybe there is a connection!? Possibly Torah Sh’bal Peh requires that one first build a mountain, then realize what it is lacking and build another mountain above that to reach the truth.

[1]  רש”י על במדבר פרק לג,מ  – וישמע הכנעני – כאן למדך שמיתת אהרן היא השמועה שנסתלקו ענני הכבוד וכסבור שנתנה רשות להלחם בישראל לפיכך חזר וכתבה:

[2]  רש”י על במדבר פרק כ,כג – על גבול ארץ אדום – מגיד שמפני שנתחברו כאן להתקרב לעשו הרשע נפרצו מעשיהם וחסרו הצדיק הזה וכן הנביא או’ ליהושפט (ד”ה כ) בהתחברך עם אחזיהו פרץ ה’ את מעשיך:

[3]  וכענין מ”ש בזוה”ק (ח”ב קפ”ד.) בטעם הליכת ישראל במדבר דאיהו אתר ושלטנו דס”ם חייבא בגין לתברא תוקפי’ וחילי’ וכו’.

[4]  ספר שם משמואל פרשת וישלח – שנת תרע”ט  – ונראה דהנה בענין שליחותו של מרע”ה למלך אדום (במדבר כ”א) נעברה נא בארצך, הגיד כ”ק אבי אדומו”ר זללה”ה בשם ספה”ק שכוונת מרע”ה לעבור בארץ אדום היתה כי בעברו שמה הי’ מכניע כחו של מלך אדום, ומלך אדום הרגיש בזה שיחליש כל כחו ע”כ לא נתן רשות לעבור בארצו, עכת”ד.

[5]  ספר שם משמואל פרשת חקת – שנת תרע”ה  – על גבול ארץ אדום, ברש”י מגיד שמפני שנתחברו כאן להתקרב לעשו הרשע נפרצו מעשיהם וחסרו הצדיק הזה וכו’. וכבר דקדקנו מה חטא הי’, הלוא כך נצטוינו לפתוח בשלום אפי’ עם שבע האומות, ואמרנו שהחטא הי’ שהזכירו תיבת אחיך כאילו מבקשים ודורשים אחר אחוה שלהם.

[6]  ספר עץ הדעת טוב חוקת – ואז וישב ממנו שבי הם התורה והמצות שעסק האדם בהם באותו יום ולוקחים אותם ממנו.

שפת אמת חקת תר”ס-  וישב ממנו שבי דרשו חז”ל שפחה אחת. דכ’ עלית למרום שבית שבי. פי’ דבקבלת התורה הוציאו בנ”י כל הנ”ק שהיו בתוך האומות וז”ש ה’ מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו כו’ אותו החלק והצד אחיזה שיש לע’ אומות בתורה. כי הלא נק’ ראשית וע”כ יש איזה נקודה שמתפשט להם מהתורה והכל נמסר לבנ”י וע”ז כתיב וישב ממנו שבי אותו השבי שלקחו בנ”י מהם. ומזה הבינו בנ”י כי השבעה אומות אין בהם נקודה של אמת. לכן נדרו אם נתן תתן כו’ והחרמתי כו’ כמו שנצטוו אח”כ לא תחי’ כל נשמה. וכוונו בנ”י מעצמן לזאת המצוה מאחר שלא הי’ קיום לאותו השבי ששבו מהם כנ”ל. אח”כ מצאתי קצת מזה בזוה”ק דף קצ”ג ע”ש:

[7]  ספר שם משמואל פרשת תצוה – שנת תרע”ג  –  אבל במלחמה השני’ שהי’ למשה כח כללי בקדושה מה שלא הי’ לעמלק בטומאה, לא הי’ הדבר כ”כ קשה מצד משה, אלא ישראל הם שהוצרכו לנדר לדבק למעלה כידוע שלשון נדר נ’ דר, ובזה נתדבקו במדרגה גבוהה לקבל הארה ממשית ואז שוב המלחמה היתה בנקל מאד:

[8] The level of fifty gates of Kedusha is also represented by eight. Seven is ‘nature’, multiplied out to its complete variations it is forty nine. Fifty is the beginning of eight. The Kohen Gadon wears eight articles of clothing, representing that connection to what is above nature. That is the transfer of the eight Bigdei Kehuna from Aharon to Eliezer


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