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The Passing of Aaron

The Passing of Aaron

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It was the fortieth year since the Jewish people had left Egypt. There was excitement in the Jewish camp. Soon, at last, in a matter of months, they will all enter the Promised Land, the "land flowing with milk and honey", which G‑d had promised to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish people, as an everlasting inheritance.

Aaron was 123 years old, but still as vigorous as ever. Yet, his last day drew near. On the day before the new moon of the fifth month (Av), G‑d spoke to Moshe, saying:

"Go tell your brother that his last day on earth has come. He will not live to enter the Promised Land, but must die in the desert - because of the transgression at the Waters of Meribah. Console him that his son Elazar will succeed him to the High Priesthood and will uphold his tradition."

Though Moses knew that that day would come, he dreaded it, and it broke his heart. All night Moses cried bitterly, for he loved his brother dearly. On the following morning, Moses rose with the sun, and went to his brother's tent. "Aaron, dear Aaron", Moses called, and out came Aaron much surprised at such an early visit.

"My dear brother, Moses said. "I have come to ask you to explain to me some difficult passages in the Torah. I have been studying the Book of Bereshith (Genesis). Won't you help me?"

"Why, certainly," said Aaron. "Come let's read it together."

They read how G‑d created the beautiful world, the sun, the moon, the trees and plants, the animals and fishes, and last, Man. Yes, he was created last so that he should not get too proud of himself.

"Isn't it a shame that Adam brought death into the world?" Moses remarked.

"But he sinned gravely," Aaron said. G‑d had been kind to him, placed him in the Garden of Eden and made him lord of all creatures. Yet, Adam disobeyed G‑d, and so G‑d told him: 'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.'"

"Yes, this is the way of all flesh," Moses said sadly. "I suppose our last day is not far off, either. Would you fear to die, dear brother?"

"Your conversation is strange today, dear brother." Aaron said. "Tell me, why are you talking so much of death just now?"

Moses hesitated. He had no heart to break the news to him. Finally, as if changing the subject, Moses said: "I have an important message for you from G‑d. Now, come let's go up onto Mount Hor. I'll tell it to you there." Hastily Aaron put on all the eight priestly garments and came out of his tent. His son Elazar and Joshua were also waiting. Off they strolled toward Mount Hor, and by the time they reached the mountain, all the Elders and princes of Israel had gathered around them.

"Only Aaron, Elazar and I shall go up to the mountain," Moses said. "The rest of you wait here."

Silently they climbed toward the summit. Moses still found it difficult to tell him. He had to find a way, somehow.

"Well, G‑d had left something in your charge," Moses finally said, "and desires to claim it back. Do you know what I am referring to?"

"Well, there is that Altar, the Table and all the vessels of the Tabernacle, that I am in charge of. Do you mean those?"

"No, not those. There is a sacred light that He gave you."

"Not one, but seven lights -- the seven lights of the Menorah, which are burning in the Tabernacle, if that's what you mean."

"No, no," said Moses. "There is yet another light, my dear brother, a sacred Divine light that He gave every one of us. 'The candle of G‑d is the soul of man,'" Moses added gravely.

"Ah, dear brother, I know what you are speaking of now," Aaron said, lowering his head. "I am ready."

Suddenly a cave appeared in the mountain slope. They entered the cave. There they saw a table with a candle burning on it, and by the wall there was a bed. For a moment Aaron stood motionless, engrossed in deep thought. "What are you thinking about?" Moses asked him.

"I am thinking how the slightest flaw spoils the perfect diamond; how the slightest speck of soot shows up on the pure snow... That transgression of ours at the Waters of Meribah - a trifling deviation from the word of G‑d, yet so severe a punishment not to set foot in the Promised Land."

"Yes, the greater the man the greater are his responsibilities, for smaller men look up to him for inspiration and guidance. I wonder if our successors will always remember this lesson... Moses said.

Moses then told Aaron to take off his priestly robes and to put them on his son Elazar. Aaron did so, and then lay down on the bed.

Presently the Clouds of Glory surrounded him. His face became radiant and an expression of unusual exultation appeared on it. Thus, Aaron passed away peacefully in G‑d's own tender care.

"I wish I would pass away like this," Moses whispered. Then, wiping his tears off his face, he turned and left that sacred cave.

When Moses and Elazar returned alone, the people could not believe that Aaron had died. "That loving and lovable man, that saintly man who stood between the living and the dead and had saved so many lives from the very clutches of death, how could death prevail over him?" they said. Suddenly they saw a strange vision hovering over Mount Hor. They saw Aaron lying peacefully in a cave, a candle burning by his bedside. The next moment the Clouds of Glory that had surrounded the camp of Israel and had accompanied them during the many years of wandering through the desert, disappeared. All Israel knew now their beloved High Priest had passed away, and they mourned him for 30 days.

Hillel says, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and striving for peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them near to the Torah," (Pirke Avoth 1:12).

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