There is a unique factor that features in this week’s Torah reading that never occurs on any other Sabbath. In the midst of the recounting of the events that occurred to the Jewish people in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Torah relates that in the 40th year of their wanderings, on the first day of the fifth month, Aaron the High Priest died. Now when we count the months from Nissan, as the Torah does, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar is Av. Parshas Maasei is always read in the month of Av or on the Sabbath on which that month is blessed. Thus on Shabbos Parshas Maasei, we are reading about an event integrally related to the chronology of the time.

Now the Torah does not inform us explicitly of the date of the death of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, or Miriam. The fact that it does so with regard to Aaron and, moreover, that this passage is always read close to the very day that this passing took place is certainly significant.

What singles out the month of Av? It is the month of the destruction of the Temple: the First Temple, by the Babylonians and the Second Temple, by the Romans. Our Sages ask why the Second Temple was destroyed and explain that the destruction came because of the sin of unwarranted hatred. There was strife and enmity among the people. Moreover, this was not merely a spiritual factor. As anyone aware of the history of that era knows, it was the rivalry, in-fighting, and discord among the Jewish people themselves that cost them their supplies of food and water and, ultimately, led to their defeat by the Romans.

What was unique about Aaron the High Priest? His continuous efforts to establish peace and harmony among the Jewish people. If Aaron heard two people arguing, on the following day, he would seek out one of them and tell him — wishfully speaking, the conversation never actually happened — how he met the other person with whom he had argued the previous day and that person was so sorry; he really felt close to the other person and did not understand how or why they had quarreled. Directly afterwards, he would seek out that other person and tell him the same thing about the first. In this way, the next time, the two met, they were able to step beyond their petty disagreements and relate to each other with friendship and love.

Why is Aaron’s death associated with the month of Av? Our Sages state: G‑d prepares the cure before the wound. Centuries before there arose the strife and friction that led to the destruction of the Temple, G‑d saw to it that the month of Av would be influenced by Aaron who stood for the opposite qualities, friendship and love.

The destruction of the Temple is not merely a story of the past. On the contrary, our Sages state that whoever does not see the Temple built in his days should consider it as if it was destroyed in his days. Moreover, the same factor that led to the destruction of the Temple, the lack of unity and oneness among our people, is also preventing it from being rebuilt. For according to the Jewish tradition, reward and punishment is given “measure for measure.” It follows that were the friction and strife that were the cause of the exile to be eradicated, the result, the exile itself, would also cease.

Now is the time to take a cue from Aaron the High Priest and proactively seek out our fellowmen and heighten the bonds of love and unity that bind us together.

Looking to the Horizon

The efforts to highlight unity and love do more than correct the misdeeds of our ancestors, they give us a foretaste of the ultimate love and unity that will characterize the era of Mashiach, as Maimonides writes: “In that era,... there will be no envy or competition.” There are two dimensions to that statement. Firstly, Maimonides states the immediate cause, “for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.”

Why is there strife and friction today? Because of a scarcity mentality. A person is jealous of another person because he thinks that the other person will prevent him from getting his share of the pie. But what if the pie is clearly big enough for both?

It is and it always was. We are the ones who are small. In the era of Mashiach, we will be able to see beyond our own limitations and realize the great blessings G‑d has invested in this world.

Implied in the above statement of Maimonides is also a second point: that man will overcome his fundamental selfishness and be able to appreciate the G‑dliness in himself, in others, and in the world at large. For otherwise, even when there are abundant blessings, man’s own shortsightedness will prevent him from taking advantage of them.