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In this week’s Torah portion of Chukas, Moshe Rabbeinu commits the sin of hitting the rock which was the ultimate cause for him not being allowed to enter the land of Israel. However, the pasuk says, “Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘Because you did not imbue belief in Me in the eyes of the Jews, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land I have given them’” (Bamidbar 20:12). Why is Aharon also mentioned and blamed? What did he do wrong?
The Medrish Rabba, quoting this pasuk, gives an insight as to why Aharon was punished. “This is what the pasuk says, ‘There is futility that takes place on earth: Sometimes there are righteous men who are treated as if they had done the deeds of the wicked; and there are wicked men who are treated as if they have done the deeds of the righteous. I declare this too is vanity’ (Koheles 8:14). You find that when the snake was cursed, and He said you shall be cursed etc. He didn’t allow him to claim anything, for the snake could have said before Hashem, ‘You told man not to eat and I told him to eat, why should you curse me?’ He did not allow him to claim anything. And Aharon should have claimed, ‘I did not go against Your words why should I die'” (Medrish Rabba Chukas 19:11)? (Click here for Hebrew text.) The Maharz”u sights a Medrish Tanchuma in this parsha (10) which elaborates more on this very matter. The Anaf Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma asks a basic question in belief in Hashem related to why Hashem didn’t allow the snake to make his claim or didn’t claim for him. This is even though there is a concept in Jewish courts called טענינן ליה that the court will make the claim for the litigant, if justified. The question is, that if the all-knowing Hashem knows the snake’s claim, which would make him innocent in court, then why was he guilty? How can the Judge of the world not exact proper justice? The Anaf Yosef gives two answers. One is based on a Yefeh Toar on Breishis Rabba (20), that says that he really deserved to be punished, but he gave some excuse to wiggle himself out of punishment. However Hashem didn’t let him give that excuse, because if He would then Adam and Chava would be punished and he, the perpetrator, the seducer, would not have been punished. Therefore, Hashem didn’t make the excuse for him, since he really deserved punishment for causing the mortality of man. The second answer is based on a gemara in Sanhedrin 29a. We learn from the snake that we don’t make any claims of innocence for one who was proven to be a masis, one who convinces others to sin. So Hashem did not make any excuse for the snake because he convinced Chava to sin, but in order not to allow the snake to make an excuse for himself, which according to halacha would have to be accepted so Hashem immediately sentenced him to his deserved punishment. Normally even if one is sentenced to death, if there is any claim that can reverse the sentence we listen to it. But we learn from this episode that for a masis, one who purposefully causes others to sin, we don’t have any mercy, and don’t allow anyone to claim for him once he is sentenced to death. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Maharz”u on the Medrish Rabba, when explaining the medrish, says that the snake’s claim would have been ‘Why did he leave Your command and go after mine, the words of the teacher and the words of the student who should he have listened to?’ (דברי הרב ודברי התמיד דברי מי שומעים)However, since he was wicked, convincing them to sin, Hashem didn’t allow the snake to make any claim of innocence for himself. The Maharz”u concludes, “And what occurred to the wicked snake occurred to the righteous Aharon.” So, what did Aharon do wrong?
The Etz Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma points out that Aharon is praised for not telling Hashem ‘I did not sin,’ but the reason why he was punished in reality is because he should have protested what Moshe was doing and not have agreed to his action [of hitting the rock twice.]
Even if he didn’t stop his brother Moshe Rabbeinu when he could have, does that mean he should be equated with the snake, as if he purposefully seduced Moshe to sin? Not even close! So why was Aharon Kohen Gadol compared to the snake and sentenced to death for his inaction of not preventing Moshe’s mistaken decision to hit the rock?
From here we see a clear proof that the righteous are judged by Hashem very meticulously, on a whole different level than others, since they are held to much higher standards. (ד’ דן הצדיקים כחוט השערה) This case is a clear explanation of this concept since Aharon, a rodef shalom, one who Pirkei Avos says ran after peace, as well as the beloved older brother of Moshe Rabbeinu, who Moshe treated with extreme respect and looked up to, could have said something to Moshe, Moshe would have definitely listened and none of this would have happened so since he didn’t, it literally is as if Aharon convinced him to sin like a masis, and therefore deserved to die without any excuses, because of his high level of righteousness and the standards he was judged on. However, without a doubt in anyone’s mind this was a punishment incurred in this world but in the next world, The Eternal World, Aharon earned a position extremely close to Hashem.