The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

A Brother's Love

“Blessed are you Hashem, our G-D, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron, and has commanded us to bless his people Israel, with love”

At a glance the blessing which the Kohanim recite before bestowing their blessings upon the congregation, which outside the land of Israel, takes place only on festivals seems fairly straight forward. However, upon closer examination, this blessing, - which is a Birkat mitzvah, a blessing prior to doing a mitzvah – seems unusual on 2 different accounts. Firstly, in a usual blessing of this nature, we simply state “… who has sanctified us with his commandments, and has commanded us”, yet in this particular blessing, the Kohanim mention “the holiness of Aaron,” their ancestor. Additionally, and perhaps even stranger, the blessing is ended with the word the word “be-ahava”, “with love”. In no other blessing over any mitzvah whatsoever do we find any other adjective within the Berachah! We do not say “… and has commanded us regarding washing the hands with purity, or with joy”. In no other blessings do we find that we need to describe a facet of the mitzvah we are about to perform. So why is this blessing so anomalous, and what are the reasons behind these changes?

The answer lies in a pasuk in this week’s Sedrah, as explained by the following Gemara, in Mesechet Shabbat, (דף קלט, amud א – 139 A). There is a Pasuk in Parshat Tetzaveh (Perek כח, Pasuk ל; chapter 28, verse 30) which says Aaron must put the urim v’tumim “al libo” - “upon his heart”. The Gemara wants to know why “on his heart” and how did Aaron merit this great reward of having it “upon his heart”?

In this week’s Sedrah, in chapter 3, G-d appears to Moshe, and commands him to go to the land of Egypt, speak to Pharaoh, and lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. At that point, Moshe says something truly remarkable, and is almost unrepeated in the 1000 year history of Jewish prophets. He says no. In fact, when G-d gives him a clear and unambiguous instruction, he refuses 5 times! However, Hashem says something to him, and according to Rashi on that pasuk, it was this that made Moshe finally acquiesce and go to Egypt. This pasuk (chapter 4, verse 14) reads: “is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? … Behold, he is going out to meet you, and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart”. Moshe was only refusing G-D’s word, according to Rashi, because he thought it would cause Aaron to be upset that the younger brother was chosen over him, and he wasn’t willing to cause his brother grievance. However, as soon as he was reassured that Aaron would be happy, not just externally, but “he will rejoice in his heart”, then Moshe agreed to go along with it.

Herein lies the answer to the Gemara, and the reason why the Berachah for Birkat Kohanim has those special features. Aaron displayed here a unique character trait, he was genuinely happy for another person even when that person was promoted over him! This shows us the total opposite of jealousy, and personifies the total pursuit of harmony. The Kohanim, as they ascend to bless the congregation, recall this incredible character trait of Aaron to give selflessly, and not to be jealous of others. The word “with love” at the end of their blessing emphasises this exact attribute, and when conferring this blessing, they remind themselves of this essential quality to give and not to envy others. Additionally, this is the answer given in the Gemara. That very “heart” which was glad for his younger brother, which was so willing to sacrifice his own glory, merited the honour of having the “breastplate of justice” on that very generous and selfless heart.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (chapter 1, Mishna 12) says:
“be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people…”. How often, in a society such as ours, do we allow petty jealousies to get in the way of building successful relationships with our friends, families and colleagues? How often do we see someone else’s success as a threat to our own, and immediately start resenting them? Here is an example of Aaron, who was a very righteous man in his own right, seeing his brother being picked over him for leadership. The seemingly natural course would be of extreme jealousy and even hatred from Aaron. Quite the reverse, as we see the exact opposite, with Aaron being happy for his younger brother. Genuinely happy. This is a perfect example of how to “pursue peace”, by overcoming our natural “sink or swim” instinct, and truly rejoicing in the successes of others. “Be like the disciples of Aaron.” That is indeed a level we should all strive for.

By J.J. Kimche

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