Rabbi Zvi Teichman
In the introduction to the restriction for Kohanim from becoming contaminated from the dead, they are referred to as the ‘Kohanim, the sons of Aharon’.
Why did the Torah emphasize the obvious fact of their being descended from Aharon precisely at this juncture?
The Zohar states that the Torah is seeking to accentuate the defining character trait of Aharon as the paradigm אוהב את הבריות — Lover of People, that is incumbent upon his descendants to emulate.
But why is this being noted specifically as a prelude to the need for them to refrain from coming in contact with the dead?
A disciple of the holy Noam Elimelech, Rav Reuven HaLevi Horowitz of Zaranovtza, offers a fascinating explanation in his Dudaim Basadeh.
There are two types of people, those when observing conflict impulsively join the fray, and those who abhor dispute, instinctively seeking to pursue peace.
Before man having sinned, G-d clothed his soul in ‘garments of אור — light’, our external physical self, enmeshed seamlessly with our soul, radiating its light. When man, however, succumbed to his urges by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, that former garment of light transformed into a hardened ‘garment of עור — skin’, a physical entity no longer fused to its soul. Man would now face a world where the tension and friction generated in the battle between the physical and spiritual would cause our material self to eventually erode, in a process of death, the forewarned consequence of having sinned.
The former ‘unity’ that existed between the two elements of life, that infused the physical world with eternal ‘life’, will no longer be possible. All we can yearn for now is for our soul to defeat our material self in a battle to the death, surviving with our souls intact, waiting to be bonded one day again with our former garment of ‘light’ in the realm of תחיית המתים — Revival of the Dead.
We are doomed to live in a world of פירוד — division, which manifests itself in our pursuit of power, pleasure, and fame. We can only succeed in surviving if we seek the eternal harmony that G-d initially wired into the world, pursuing peace and unity, by overcoming those ‘urges’ and allowing only His unified will to persevere in all our encounters with the material world.
Aharon HaKohen saw light wherever he gazed. He loved humanity because he always perceived each person with positivity, seeing the qualities inherent within them. He refused to yield to a world of ‘division’, holding out hope for every creature. Death — was anathema to his world view. Death exists solely in an environment of negativity and dissent.
It was for this reason the Torah declares to the descendants of Aharon to distance themselves from the impurity of the dead, remaining focused and dedicated to peace and harmony, that will one day restore our material world to ‘life’ once again.
The attribute to ‘love people’ is one of the forty-eight ways the Torah is acquired through.
It is averred that the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased from dying on the thirty-third day of the Omer, after having pursued a path of rectifying their errant ways in implementing these attributes. According to one listing of these 48 ways, day thirty-two corresponds to the quality to be אוהב את הבריות — loving people.
The ingredient for death — dissent, was evident in their lacking honor for one another, permitting their egos to promote their own ‘greatness’ while ignoring the wonderful qualities of their fellow students.
When they mastered appreciation for one another, they put death quickly to rest and rose together mightily in their learning, restoring the terrible vacuum created by the death of twenty-four thousand brilliant students, bringing renewed life to their world.
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai was one of those students who brought back an exquisite abiding love amongst them, meriting a burst of depth of Torah knowledge that formerly did not exist.
The Vilna Gaon interprets the verse in Mishlei, רבות בנות — Many daughters, עשו חיל — have amassed achievement, as referring to the collective Torah community who each embody a facet of one of the 48 ways, ‘for no one individual can attain perfection in all of them’. It is only through the aggregate of their efforts that amasses חיל — achievement, with חיל being numerically equivalent to all 48!
Rav Moshe Menachem HaKohen Shapiro directs us to the words of the great Rav Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk, who writes in his Meshech Chochmah, that the merits of others can only accrue for all if there is genuine unity and appreciation between them all.
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai informed his students, אנן בחביבותא תליא — our survival is contingent on our cherishing one another.
The Midrash records a fascinating account of how the great Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai cared deeply for every Jew.
There was an incident involving a certain woman in Sidon who stayed with her husband ten years and did not give birth. They came to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and sought to separate from one another. He said to them: ‘By your lives, just as you came together with food and drink, so too, you shall separate only with food and drink.’ They followed his advice and made a celebration for themselves, made a great feast, and she got him to drink in excess. When he was in good spirits, he said to her: ‘My daughter, see any good item that I have in the house, take it, and go to your father’s house.’ What did she do? After he fell asleep, she motioned to her servants and maidservants and said to them: ‘Carry him in his bed and take him to my father’s house.’ At midnight he awakened from his slumber after his wine had abated. He said to her: ‘My daughter, where am I?’ She said to him: ‘In my father’s house.’ He said to her: ‘What am I doing in your father’s house?’ She said to him: ‘Is this not what you said to me in the evening: See any good item that I have in the house, take it, and go to your father’s house? There is no item in this world better for me than you.’ They went to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and he stood and prayed for them and they were remembered.
I would like to conjecture that Rebbi Shimon observed the frustration of the husband over his childless state that had led sadly to the disintegration of his relationship with his wife. He suspected that the husband had overlooked the remarkable wife he had and was blinded by his overriding ambition for a child. Rebbi Shimon who understood the depths of human souls as no other, knew that when a person lacks a healthy appreciation of one’s own self-worth, one’s talents, one’s purpose, one tends to latch onto different objectives, hopes, and goals that when acquired will give one definition, respect, and happiness. But it never does bring satisfaction. He knew he would have to bring him to an awareness of how much he meant to his wife, independent of meriting to build a family. Rebbi Shimon set into motion a sequence of events that resulted in the husband coming to his senses — due to a wise and loving wife — finally realizing how cherished and truly special he was. He no longer ‘needed’ a child to go forward happily in life — although he certainly longed for one — newly equipped with a healthy sense of self, permitting himself to feel loved and more fortified than ever to be more loving.
Rebbi Shimon didn’t simply cherish people, he empowered them to see the beauty of their own souls permitting themselves to flourish and grow authentically in tune with their unique contribution to this most fabulous, beautiful mosaic — the Jewish people.
The Holy Bnei Yissoschor points out that שמעון בן יוחאי is numerically equivalent toמחיה מתים — revives the dead.
The power to restore life into the world begins with our willingness to truly cherish others, making them feel worthy.
On Lag B’Omer we must stoke the fires that burn brightly within each other, discovering each other’s brilliance anew.
As we head onward in the days of Sefira preparing ourselves for the ultimate day of the ‘Giving of the Torah’ once again, we must remain focused on this goal so that we merit having the Torah illuminate our lives.
A secular author wisely stated, “There are two types of people — those who come into a room and say, “Well, here I am!” and those who come in and say, “Ah, there you are.”
One who focuses on ‘here I am’ lives in a world of פירוד — division, destined to a life of conflict and discontent.
Those, however, who are eager to acknowledge another, exclaiming with joy ‘there you are’, sincerely loving and appreciating people in the spirit of Aharon, are destined to live in harmony and peace, meriting the beauty of Torah in all aspects of our lives!