Shemini – An Uncle’s Trait Makes His Nephew Great

Hillel says in Pirkay Avos (1:12) that we should strive to be from the students of Aharon: “Loving peace and running after peace, loving everyone and bringing them close to Torah.” Rashi explains: “that we should learn from Aharon who loved peace as it says: ‘I had a covenant with him, the life and the peace’ (Malachi 2:5). When he saw two people fighting with each other he would go up to each one of them unbeknownst to the other and say, ‘So and so, see, why do you fight with so and so, for he ran over to me and pleaded with me to come to you and speak to you until you are appeased and make up with him.’ Aharon would do the same to his friend and through words like these he would create peace amongst them. One time a person said to his wife, ‘I swear not to have any enjoyment with you until you spit in the eye of the kohen gadol.’ Aharon heard about this, he went over to that woman and told her, ‘Mrs. So and So I have an eye ache, may you please spit in my eye, so it will feel better?’ She then spit into his eye. For this reason the Torah states at his death, ‘All the House of Israel cried over Aharon for thirty days’ (Bamidbar 20:29), referring to both the men and women. But by Moshe it only says the Sons of Israel, as it states, ‘And the sons of Israel cried over Moshe.’ (Devarim 34:8).”
In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, after the tragic incident of the death of Aharon’s two son’s Nadav and Avihu, the Torah says: “Moshe called on Mishael and Eltzaphan the sons of Uziel, the uncle of Aharon and he told them to come close and carry out your brothers from in front of The Holy to outside the camp” (Vayikra 10:4). Rashi there says Uziel was the brother of Amram as it says “And the sons of Kehas: Amram, and Yitzhar, and Chevron and Uziel” (Shemos 6:18).

The Rabbeinu Bachye asks on this Rashi: “What brought the rav zt”l to teach us this? Don’t we already know that Uziel was the brother of Amram? Rather, we must explain his explanation as follows, for the reason why the Torah mentioned he was the uncle of Aharon is to explain that Uziel and Aharon were similar to each other in their actions. There is a connection made between Uziel and Aharon to teach that just as Aharon loved peace and ran after peace so too did Uziel love peace and run after peace. The only reason why the rav zt”l (Rashi) had to explain that Uziel was Amram’s brother was because the Torah said he was the uncle of Aharon.” (Click here for Hebrew text)

The Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that the Torah is pointing out that Uziel had the same trait as Aharon, that of being a lover of peace, and running after peace. In fact, it sounds like the reason Rashi points out the obvious, that Uziel was the brother of Amram, is to teach us that this trait was in the family, it was genetic. Yet we don’t find any mention of Uziel and his greatness any place else in the Torah besides these two places and it does not say anywhere that we should be of the students of Uziel, loving peace and running after it! If we are right in assuming character traits can be genetic, then why was Aharon’s outcome any different than Uziel’s? On the contrary, he must have learned from his uncle to use this trait in the best manner possible?

Furthermore, to say that Moshe Rabbeinu did not have this trait would be a misnomer. First off, he was the brother of Aharon, so it should have been in his genes as well. Secondly, the greatest leader in Jewish history, who reached heights in perfection and spirituality that no other man ever reached, at such a lofty level, must have been attuned to his fellow man, and cared for him with the same sensitivity as one who loves peace and runs after peace. Indeed, the entire reason he was given the position of leadership of the Jewish People was because of his feelings of care and sensitivity towards his fellow Jews who were slaves in Egypt. So why didn’t the entire Jewish people mourn Moshe as much, and why wasn’t he called a lover of peace and one who ran after peace?

We must therefore say that even though Moshe Rabbeinu did have, and indeed used, this trait of loving peace and running after it, still Uziel and Aharon excelled at this trait. And the reason why it says about Aharon: “May you be from the students of Aharon” and it does not mention from the students of Uziel must be because Aharon excelled at this trait even more than Uziel.

A person might have a natural inclination to do something or to feel a certain way; but there is always more one can do to perfect that trait. It takes constant care and focus to excel at and to perfect a character trait. Practice makes perfect, and if you keep at it, always trying to find a nuance or an angle to better yourself, then you will be deserving of others looking up to you and wanting to emulate how you live your life. Not only that, but you might even be more appreciated!