Rabbi Chaim with Zeesy and Chana Laya at the Lower Falls of Grand Canyon at Yellowstone

Musings Of A Shliach From Montana

Cohesiveness is so important.

On Thursday, July 4, Chavie, Zeesy, Chana Laya, and I headed into our beloved Yellowstone, but this time, focusing on the northern part of the park, Mount Washburn and the Grand Canyon at Yellowstone. If you haven’t been to Yellowstone, make it a priority: it’s one of the most magnificent and wondrous places on earth and never gets boring. On the way home, we decided to drive through West Yellowstone and visit our friends, Tal and Diklah, wonderful Israelis who own souvenir shops in town. They’ve been here for many years, and though we have very different levels of observance, we are very close friends, mamash like family.

Unbeknownst to us, we came into town just about an hour before the July 4th parade. After a day immersed in nature enjoying the amazing creations of Hashem, it was a heartwarming way to wrap it up. Thousands of locals and visitors from around the world lined the streets and watched the patriotic parade that was fun, meaningful, and filled with lots of love for America. While there were people of all flavors, it was a parade of unity. Save the Bison and Paul Revere floats marched together without rioters, demonstrators, disruptors, or annoying self-righteous nudniks inserting their “cause” into a unifying celebration of this incredible country.

It got me thinking about cohesiveness and how vital it is for society and how good it feels to me personally. We don’t have to agree on every issue; we don’t need uniformity of ideas, but we can and should find common ground that is deeper than any superficial differences. It’s not a crime to ignore a topic or two that are super-divisive and spend our time focusing on the things where we see eye to eye. It was a breath of fresh air; it was inspiring, and it gave me hope. The big cities could learn a thing or two from the rural shtetlach.

This past Shabbos, we had the honor of hosting Larry and Esta Gordon, the beloved founders of this paper. Larry is my mother’s first cousin (his dad, Reb Nison Gordon and my Bubbe Esther Goldman were siblings) and we’ve always enjoyed a special family bond. Chavie and I host many guests, but there is something special about hosting family. Even if you never hosted them before, it feels right, it seems natural, it creates closeness. Of course, we gave them the royal treatment as we do all our guests, but with family I could be more of myself, unfiltered, unadulterated, chilled. We laughed, we reminisced, we celebrated our cherished family and its history.

In a sense, this is G-d’s expectation of the Jewish people, of humanity. We don’t agree with all of our relatives, but we should be able to get along nevertheless, and the same is with the larger world. Case in point: along with the Gordons and our local Yidden, we also hosted guests from New Jersey, Israel, California, Florida, Arizona, and Texas for the Shabbos meals. Litvaks, Chassidim, Modern Orthodox, Dati Leumi, and other flavors of Jews, and we had an amazing time together, focusing on our Jewishness and on the Rebbe, zt’l’s legacy in honor of his 30th yahrzeit. It was a farbrengen of Jewish thought and conversations I will always treasure.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukas, we read about the death of Aaron HaKohen. On Rosh Chodesh Av, at the age of 123, Aaron passed away and is buried in Transjordan (modern day name: Jebel Harun, Jordan). The verse says, “The whole community saw that Aaron had passed away, and every one of the House of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days.” Rashi reminds us that “both men and women mourned, for Aaron pursued peace and brought love between quarrelling parties and between husband and wife.”

Aaron was a man devoted to peace. He wasn’t in denial about human fragility and weakness, he knew people’s flaws, but he also knew that cohesiveness is the name of the game. Getting people to overlook the negative, to turn a blind eye to what irks them about the other person, and focus instead on the qualities they admire is what he excelled at. I’ve often marveled at the verse in Yirmiyahu “Go and call out in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: so, said the Lord: I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown.” When Hashem is mad at us due to our misdeeds, He remembers how much we loved Him when shlepping in the desert, in the unknown barren land. Mordechai Ben David sings these words in the original Hebrew with a very powerful tune that enlivens my soul because it’s so reassuring.

Aaron HaKohen taught us to remember all the reasons that brought us to love our spouse in the first place, remembering the time we found our young romance and decided to commit to each other in marriage, and that, in itself, the memory of how it all started and how in love we were, will re-ignite the attraction and commitment today.

Imagine! Aaron HaKohen, the great High Priest serving in the Mishkan, spending his time being a marriage counselor. He’s running around inspiring irreligious Jews, getting couples to work things out, and making peace between friends. That’s how important cohesiveness in a community, a family, and the world really is. The Gemara in Bava Basra (38b) says that Moshe Rabbeinu thought that he should go to war with the Moabites, thinking that if we were commanded to smite the Midianites, who only supported the Moabites, how much more so we should fight the Moabites. Yet, Hashem said to Moshe, “Your ideas aren’t mine.” I don’t want you attacking the Moabites and Amonites because two amazing women, Ruth and Naama, will each, respectively, emerge from these nations and therefore are worthy of saving.

Imagine if our community would follow Aaron’s footsteps and see each child, each high schooler, each bochur, as a child of Hashem who may be the future progenitor of beautiful Jews. Who can estimate the value of each individual and their descendants? We are experts at speaking out against abortion, but what about aborting kids out of yeshivas? Ostracizing families out of shuls? Shaming girls who don’t have a seminary degree because their parents can’t afford it? Where is the Aaron HaKohen spirit in today’s Jewish experience? Are we living up to his example?

A student of the Chasam Sofer, Rav Tzvi Hirsch, who was a rabbi in Schlaining, Austria and later in Hungary, asks why we make such a big deal about the entirety of the Jewish people mourning Aaron’s passing. Moshe was the ultimate person who brought peace to the Jewish people, by giving them the Torah, sharing with them the blessing of Olam Haba, organizing for them the Manna from heaven; he gave them so much peace, so much calm, so they certainly all mourned him. In addition, in Vayikra, Moshe says that all the Jewish people mourned for Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons. So why do we make such a big deal about everyone mourning for Aaron when that was certainly the case with Moshe and Aaron’s sons? In a fascinating teaching, he goes on to explain that Rosh Chodesh is celebrated as a women’s holiday in recognition of their abstention during the Golden Calf. Yet, Nadav and Avihu passed away on Rosh Chodesh Nissan and Aaron on Rosh Chodesh Av, unlike Moshe who passed on the 7th of Adar, and despite it being a celebratory day they, the amazing Jewish women, mourned, expressing their appreciation for Aaron and all that he did for peace. They were willing to break protocol to express their pain for someone who went above and beyond for them in bringing peace and cohesiveness. That’s why we emphasize it by Aaron and not Moshe, because in Aaron’s case it took a break from the norm to mourn.

Right after Aaron’s passing, we read about the Canaanites looking to go to war with Klal Yisrael. Rashi says that they chose this time to attack the Jews because they heard that Aaron passed away and as a result, the Clouds of Glory ceased to shield the Jews. In a 1991 talk, the Rebbe, zt’l explained that Moshe’s merit brought them manna, Miriam’s merit brought them water, and Aaron’s merit brought them the Clouds of Glory. Moshe and Miriam’s merit brought a blessing to each individual Jew, food and water, but Aaron’s, the Clouds of Glory, brought a unifying, collective blessing that enveloped the entire Jewish nation as one, in sync with his unifying character. When the Canaanites saw the unifying factor gone, they figured the Jews were fair game. Every time we bring peace to two Yidden, whether couples, friends, or students, it adds to the collective blessing of our nation, gifting us glorious clouds of protection.

As I head back to Montana from my visit to the Rebbe’s resting place, I feel blessed to be a Chassid of the Rebbe, our Aaron HaKohen who trained us to love, to uplift, to unify, and to light the candle of Klal Yisrael and the entire world. n


Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail rabbi@jewishmontana.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.



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