His father was Aaron (the first High Priest) and his son was Pinchas (who had a Parshah commemorating his zealous dedication to G‑d), but it seems that Elazar (often Anglicized as Eleazar) the High Priest gets a bit lost in the historical narrative. Let’s explore the life and times of the heir of Aaron and a great leader of the Jewish people.

Elazar is mentioned many times in the Torah. He was the third son of Aaron and Elisheba. He married the daughter of Puti’eil, whom the Talmud understands to be a descendant of Jethro (father-in-law of Moses) and/or Joseph.1

Alongside His Father

Along with his three brothers, he was anointed for the service of G‑d.2 After the unfortunate passing of his elder brothers Nadab and Abihu, he began taking a larger role in the leadership of the Jewish community, especially within the tribe of Levi.

He was the prince over all the princes of the Levites. His job was to appoint the supervisors in charge of the Sanctuary.3

According to the Jerusalem Talmud,4 he personally carried the oil for lighting the Menorah, the incense, and the anointing oil, amongst other responsibilities that the verse enumerates.5 He was not obligated to carry these items, and he could have delegated this role, but he was humble before G‑d and saw it as an honor to carry them himself.6

Other opinions argue that he couldn’t possibly carry it all by himself unless gifted with superhuman strength; rather, it was his job to delegate to others.7

He also served as the assistant High Priest under his father, Aaron.8

When describing the mitzvah of the Red Heifer, the Torah gives Elazar a special mention. Since the assistant High Priest was instrumental in the process of readying the Red Heifer for the purifying waters, it was Elazar who played a large role in preparing the first Red Heifer in the desert.

As High Priest

The passing of Aaron is a fascinating story. Together with his brother Moses and his son Elazar, he ascended Mount Hor, where he peacefully passed away in a cave. Just before Aaron passed away, Moses removed Aaron’s priestly robes and put them on Elazar, thereby passing over the position of High Priest.9 At that time, Elazar was about 70 years old or older.10

The next time Elazar is mentioned is as the father of Pinchas.11 It was his son who, through his act of sacrifice, stopped a horrible plague that had killed 24,000 people after the Jews had sinned with the daughters of Moab.

Not long after this event, the Jewish people were commanded to fight the Midianites. Moses forgot the details of the laws of purifying utensils that were brought from the Midianite camp.12 It was Elazar who taught the laws to the soldiers.13 According to some commentaries, he did so with the permission of Moses.14 According to others, he was punished for rendering the law in front of his teacher Moses without his permission.15

In the Promised Land

Just one month after the passing of Moses, the Jews arrived in Israel with Joshua. When it came time to split the land among the various tribes and families, Elazar the High Priest was there to ensure that the land was portioned according to G‑d’s will. He wore the breastplate containing the Urim VeTumim, which relayed G‑d’s wishes to the Jewish people.16

When it came time to write down the book of Joshua, the first book of the Prophets, it was Joshua who wrote most of it, and Elazar and his son Pinchas concluded the book.17

The last verse in the book of Joshua tells us that when Elazar passed away, he was buried on the hill of his son Pinchas, Mount Ephraim.18

Elazar was a great, humble leader of the Jewish people who served as the first High Priest in the Holy Land and stood by Moses and Joshua during the most critical moments of our history.