Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
When we are, G-d forbid, faced with the life-threatening illness of a
great Torah sage, how should we react? Should we knowingly nod
our heads and blink our eyes in feigned acknowledgement that
Heavenly decrees are final and not to be annulled, our do we take out
our trusty Tehillim, and pray and pray for their recovery, no matter
how bleak the situation may seem?
In parshas Chukas (Bamidbar 20:22-29) we read about the death of
"And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the Children of
Israel arrived, the entire assembly, at Hor HaHar. And
Hashem said... 'Aaron shall be gathered unto his people...
Take Aaron and Elazar his son, and bring them up to Hor
HaHar. Strip Aaron of his vestments, and dress Elazar his
son in them. Aaron shall be gathered in, and die there.'
Moshe did as Hashem commanded, and they ascended
Hor HaHar before the eyes of the entire assembly."
Immediately after the death of Aaron, the Torah tells of the Canaanite
king of Arad attacking Israel, and taking captives (according to the
Sages [Midrash Aggadah quoted by Rashi] only one captive was
Chazal, our Sages (Rosh Hashanah 3a) explain the connection
between the death of Aaron and the Jews coming under siege from
Canaan: As long as Aaron lived, they explain, a Pillar of Cloud had
surrounded and protected the nation. When Aaron died, it left them.
Seeing this, and assuming that Israel was now vulnerable, one of the
Canaanite kings launched an attack against them. This explanation,
however, does not address the following question:
What had the Jews done wrong to deserve the attack?
Especially in light of the fact that captives were taken, an occurrence
which did not occur in later battles, we must conclude that in some
way the nation was, as a result of Aaron's death, deserving of
Tzror HaMor (Rabbi Avraham Seba of Andrianopol zt"l) explains that
the Jews committed a critical error in dealing with Aaron's death.
"They ascended Hor HaHar before the eyes of the entire
The reason for their ascent to Hor HaHar was not lost to the nation.
It was clear that Aaron was to die there. The Jews stood back and
soberly accepted the Heavenly decree. What should they have done?
They should have made a tumult! "How can it be," they should have
argued, "that Aaron was capable of stopping the Angel of Death (see
Rashi 17:13), yet he himself should perish in the desert?!" They
should have set up a road block! They were far to quick to accept the
death of their beloved High Priest.
As a result, Hashem, as it were, sent them a Heavenly wake-up-call:
They were attacked and suffered losses. It was as if to say, "You have
failed to grasp the seriousness of Aaron's death - perhaps this war will
bring home how great your loss truly was!" It was a powerful and
unfortunate lesson that nevertheless needed to be learned: We should
never be still in the face of a threat to the lives of others, especially
the lives of our sages and leaders.
They say: "Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - shame on
me." I believe that in this week's parsha we will find that the Jews
indeed learned their lesson. They were faced once again with the
same situation, and did not fail to take action.
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take vengeance
for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward
you will be gathered unto your people. (31:2)"
Moshe was told by Hashem that the war against Midian was to be his
last. His days were numbered. Rashi notes that, to Moshe's credit, he
did not delay, although he knew that the end of his life was directly
tied in to the speed with which Israel defeated Midian.
How did the Jews react? They refused to go to war!
"So there were delivered from the thousands of the
Children of Israel... twelve thousand armed men for the
Rashi notes that they had to be "delivered" against their wills. When
the soldiers heard that Moshe's death was dependent on this war,
they categorically refused to go to battle, until they had to be forced
to do so. This time, they would not allow themselves to fall victim to
complacency when faced with the death of their beloved leader and
It is told R' Chaim of Brisk once said: We are taught that there is a
time and a use for every middah (character trait). Even anger and
haughtiness have their places. So what is the appropriate use for the
middah of kefirah (disbelief in G-d)? When faced with the suffering
of others, he explained, we must act as if we were disbelievers. We
must never "trust Hashem" that all will be well, thereby failing to do
everything we can to help a Jew in need!
When faced with strife and illness, it is all too easy to lift our hands
to Heaven in feigned bitachon and acceptance of the decree, and not
take any proactive measures. (Often, when faced with our own
shortcomings, we are prone to do the same!) It's much easier to
simply surrender to difficult situations, than it is to accept the
responsibility that perhaps we can make a difference. Maybe this time
it depends on us! If we fail to do everything we can, we may be taken
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.