Thursday, December 26, 2013


Aaron HaKohen Gadol is one of the most admired characters in the Torah; he is famously praised by the Mishna in Pirkei Avos for pursuing peace and bringing Jews closer to the Torah. In order to gain a deeper understanding into his unique character it is instructive to compare and contrast him to his great brother Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal in a number of places do indeed make such a comparison between the two brothers: The Gemara in Sanhedrin discusses a significant difference between them with regard to justice. When a legal dispute was brought to court, Aaron’s view was that the judge should aim for compromise and try to engender a relationship of peace and harmony between the litigants, even if one party may, on occasion be less deserving than the other. Nonetheless, maintaining peace was a higher priority to Aaron than exacting pure justice. Moshe, in contrast, believed that the judge should aim for the complete truth, handing down his verdict in accordance with that truth, regardless of the feelings of the litigants. The Sifra finds a second difference between Moshe and Aaron; it says that Moshe would rebuke people who sinned, whereas Aaron would not. The Avos D’Rebbe Nosson tells us about Aaron’s approach to wrongdoers. He would befriend them to the point that they would feel guilty that they could sin whilst Aaron seemed to think they were good people. This would bring them to teshuva. The Avos D’Rebbe Nosson makes a third distinction between the two with regards to their deaths. When Aaron dies, the Torah says that “all the House of Israel cried,” whereas when Moshe dies, it says, “the Children of Israel cried” without saying the word “all”. Chazal explain that Aaron was more beloved than Moshe because he would make peace between people embroiled in disputes, and between husband and wife whilst Moshe did not. What is the underlying factor behind the differences between Moshe and Aaron? The Meshech Chochma provides us with a clue to answering this question; he observes that Aaron is connected to and emulated by the great sage, Hillel – it is Hillel who tells us to be students of none other than Aaron with regard to his attributes of pursuing peace and brings people closer to Torah Rav Uziel Milevsky zt”l argues that the implication is that Hillel is telling us to be more like Aaron than Moshe seeing as they had very different approaches to their fellow man.and that we can relate more to Aaron’s approach than that of Moshe. The Meshech Chochma goes further in explaining the underlying difference in approach between Hillel and his great peer, Shammai. By analyzing this we can then gain a far deeper understanding of the differences between Moshe and Aaron. There is a fundamental disagreement between Shammai and Hillel with regard to the creation of the world which is the basis of their divergent approaches to life. The Yalkut Shimoni notes a contradiction between two verses which suggest the order in which the heavens and earth were created: The opening verse of Bereishit states that first, God created the heavens and then the earth. However, the second chapter implies that the earth was created before the heavens. Shammai argued that the heavens were created first, whilst Hillel held that the earth came first. Rav Milevsky, based on the Meshech Chochma, explains that they are arguing as to which is most central in G-d’s creation; heaven or earth. Shammai held that the world remains ‘heaven-centric’, this means that the cardinal principles guiding it are values that belong in the higher spheres, namely, Torah and Emes (truth). Hillel, in contrast believed that the world is ‘earth-centric’. This means that its cardinal principles are based on human beings and the imperfections of this world. An example of how this disagreement plays itself out is play itself out is with regards to the question of whether a person is ever allowed to deviate from the truth. The Gemara in Kesubos discusses the case of a just married couple; and the bride is not particularly worthy of praise – Hillel and Shammai argue about what one should say to the groom. Shammai says that you must say the truth as it is, regardless of hurting the feelings of the groom. Hillel argues that this will cause discomfort therefore one should praise her in a vague fashion. Shammai argues that Hillel’s approach would constitute a transgression of the prohibition to lie, whilst Hillel holds that in such cases, maintaining peace and harmony between a bride and groom overrides the prohibition not to lie, therefore in such a case the prohibition doesn’t apply at all. Hillel’s approach is that it is not truthful to cause pain and dissension amongst people. This dispute provides an illuminating example of the ramifications of Hillel and Shammai’s divergent world views. Shammai adheres to a strict adherence to truth, whereas Hillel compromises the value of truth with that of peace. Aaron himself acted in a very similar way to that espoused by Hillel. When two people became embroiled in a dispute, Aaron would approach each one separately and say that the other person regretted how he had behaved even though this was not the truth. Through this tactic the two protagonists would end the dispute. Thus Aaron seemingly compromised on the midda of truth for the sake of peace. We can now return to Moshe and Aaron. As we mentioned, Hillel relates to Aaron and instructs us to be his students even more than Moshe. This is not because there is anything lacking in Moshe’s approach rather that his level is so high that it is of pure truth. On such a level there is no room for compromising because of people’s feelings – the truth is the highest value. Shammai’s approach is more in line with Moshe’s approach: He maintains that whilst we cannot attain Moses’ exalted level nonetheless, we must strive to attain whatever truth we can. This explains why Moshe would not accept compromise in court – it contradicts the achievement of pure truth. It also explains why Moshe would rebuke people; the pure approach to people’s sinning is to directly correct them. In contrast Aaron’s approach was to understand that most people cannot relate to being confronted with the pure truth therefore his strategy was to search for compromise and appeasement. This also explains why he was more beloved than Moshe. We have analyzed the fundamental differences between Aaron and Moshe and how Hillel and Shammai’s disagreements reflected these differences. The outlook of Aaron and Hillel after him is that at times there is need for compromise in addition to truth, whilst Shammai’s focuses on pure adherence to truth. The Gemara in Eruvin states that after three years of debate between the two schools a voice announced, “The words are both words of the Living God, but the law is like Beis Hillel”. This means that both views are correct, but they have different approaches. In this world the most fitting approach is that of Aaron and Beis Hillel because in this world the value of peace can sometimes appear to conflict with that of truth, and for the level of most people, this outlook is the most appropriate. One application of this discussion is that a person may mistakenly feel that it is a quality to always strictly adhere to the truth, even when it causes pain to others or can lead to discord. We learn from the fact that we follow Beis Hillel in this world, that there are times when it is impossible to maintain pure truth without causing pain to others. It is highly recommended for each person to learn the laws relating to when one may and may not alter the truth for the sake of peace.

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