Chukas – Thinking Through Hardship

In this week’s Torah portion of Chukas, Aharon, the beloved Kohen Gadol [High Priest] and brother of Moshe Rabbeinu passes away. The Jewish People mourned his passing for thirty days, and afterwards HaCanaani, King of Arad, attacked the Jewish people because he heard that Aharon had died and that the Clouds of Glory, which surrounded and protected the Jews in Aharon’s merit, had left the Jewish camp. Despite this loss of protection, however, the Jews miraculously won the battle (Bamidbar 20:29, 21:1-3).
The Ralbag teaches us a lesson from this juxtaposition of events: “It is not befitting to be lazy in eulogizing a sage. Rather one should arouse himself to act with alacrity and zeal (זריזות), for this is a benefit to act swiftly in order to reach this perfection in recognizing that which was taken from them, meaning the loss of the sage. For this reason the Torah tells us that all the Jews cried over the loss of Aharon for thirty days and right next to that verse the Torah tells us about the victory over HaCanaani, King of Arad, to inform us that one who act in this way (i.e. acting quickly with alacrity to eulogize a sage) will be rewarded by Hashem.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
At first this does not make sense. Why would one who is mourning need to be told to energize oneself to be quick and act with alacrity, especially for someone as like Aharon HaKohen, who was known by all as one who ran after peace, bringing spouses, friends and fellow Jews back together again, who might otherwise have started a skirmish amongst each other. He was beloved by all and a tremendous loss to the nation; one would think that proper mourning in this instance would be automatic! However that might be true when it comes to just crying  but it is not easy to give a eulogy, especially a proper one which is befitting of a tremendous sage and leader of the Jewish people. It must be then that it is very easy to make up excuses, become lazy, and push off eulogizing, expecting someone else do it, or to not capture the full picture of whom this sage was and the impact he had on humanity. Therefore, the Jews were rewarded for acting with zeal and alacrity to properly eulogize the great sage they had loss and to truly appreciate what was taken from them.

However, if you delve deeper into the matter, it would seem there could have been some sort of claim against them if they had been lazy and not properly eulogized Aharon. They might have even lost the battle against the King of Arad. Why would it be considered laziness to not quickly and properly eulogize Aharon? They were in immense emotional distress over their sudden loss. Isn’t it possible that they simply couldn’t pull themselves together emotionally to the degree necessary in order  to properly eulogize him? Why would that have been defined ass laziness? They couldn’t help it; they were distraught; they couldn’t think straight!

Rather, we must say that no matter what emotional state (obviously short of clinical senselessness) a person is in, one has the capacity to pull  oneself together, to be in control, and to use  one’s intellect to act in the proper manner. It would seem it is even expected of us to do so. That is why it would be laziness to not properly eulogize the sage as quickly as possible, and why the Jews were rewarded for acting with the proper zeal and alacrity to eulogize Aharon as soon as he passed away.

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