In this week’s Torah portion, Hukkkat, we read of the death of Aaron:
Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments and put them on this son, Eleazar. When Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, the whole community knew that Aaron has breathed his last. All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days. (Numbers 20:28-29)
It is noteworthy that Aaron was mourned by the entire people of Israel – and that their period of mourning lasted for thirty days rather than the traditional seven. According to the Midrash, this reflects Aaron’s status as an unusually and universally beloved leader – even more than Moses:
Only the men showed lovingkindness to Moses, as it is said, “And the sons of Israel wept for Moses.” (Deuteronomy 34:8) (But) the men and women and children showed lovingkindness to Aaron.
Why? Because he loved peace and pursued peace, and passed daily through the entire camp of Israel and promoted peace between a man and his wife and between a man and his neighbor. Therefore all Israel showed lovingkindness to him, as it is said, “And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (Pirke De’Rabbi Eliezer 17)
The Midrash thus presents us with a decidedly “revisionist Aaron.” While the Aaron of the Torah is the venerable High Priest of Israel, the archetypal Aaron of Rabbinic tradition is portrayed as the quintessential “Ohev V’Rodef Shalom” – “Lover and Pursuer of Peace.” Witness also this well-known verse from Pirke Avot:
Rabbi Hillel said, be a disciple of Aaron: “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving all people and bringing them closer to Torah.” (Pirke Avot 1:12)
Who are today’s disciples of Aaron? Invariably they are the one’s whose love and pursuit of peace comes at great personal cost. In honor of this week’s Torah portion, I’d like to spotlight the work of one courageous peacemaker:
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has spent more than ten of the past seventeen years in some form of imprisonment or detention under Burma’s military regime. Like many important peacemakers (she has cited MLK and Mahatma Ghandi as personal influences) Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for justice and human rights is grounded in a profoundly spiritual vision. Here is an excerpt from one of her writings, which was quoted in her Nobel Prize Presentation Speech:
Where there is no justice there can be no secure peace. That just laws which uphold human rights are the necessary foundations of peace and security would be denied only by closed minds which interpret peace as the silence of all opposition and security as the assurance of their own power.
The Burmese associate peace and security with coolness and shade:
The shade of a tree is cool indeed.
The shade of parents is cooler.
The shade of teachers is cooler still.
The shade of the ruler is yet more cool.
But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha’s teachings.
Thus to provide the people with the protective coolness of peace and security, rulers must observe the teachings of the Buddha. Central to these teachings are the concepts of truth, righteousness and loving kindness. It is government based on these very qualities that the people of Burma are seeking in their struggle for democracy.
Do you know of other Disciples of Aaron? I encourage you to write and share the stories of those whose efforts are contributing to a more just and peaceful world.