“Be Among the Disciples of Aaron”
This Shabbat (April 5-6, Parshas Shemini) we will begin to study Pirkey Avos again during the weeks of Sefiras HaOmer. Therefore, we are posting a sample from Chapter 1 (Mishnah 12) from the Breslov Pirkey Avot published by the Breslov Research Institute.
הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:
Hillel and Shammai received the tradition from them. Hillel said, “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them close to the Torah.”
Digest of Commentaries:
Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. That is, emulate the example of Aaron the High Priest in your personal relationships by working to restore harmony between others, as it is written, "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15). "Seek peace" when it is near at hand, and "pursue it" when it is further afield.
When Aaron would see two people quarreling, he would sit beside one of them and say, "Your friend is brokenhearted and ashamed because he has wronged you!" He would not give up until he had removed all ill feelings from the angry man’s heart. Then he would go and speak to the other fellow in the same way, until he had accomplished the same end. When the two met again, they would embrace one another.
Loving people and drawing them close to the Torah. By showing them love, Aaron would make the commandments of the Creator precious in their eyes.
Loving peace and pursuing peace
Rebbe Nachman: To the extent that there is peace in the world, humanity can come to serve God with one accord. People can engage in dialogue, considering together the purpose for which the world was created and seeing through its illusions. They can discuss the truth with one another – that ultimately nothing will remain but the preparations they make for the World to Come. For “At the time of a man’s passing from this world, nothing accompanies him – not silver or gold or precious gems or pearls, just Torah and good deeds alone” (Pirkey Avot 6:9). By realizing this, each one will cast away his false gods of silver and turn to the Creator, His Torah and Divine service, and thereby come to truth.
When there is no peace, however, or when there is actual strife, people cannot get together to discuss the purpose of life. Even on occasion when they do meet and converse, their words are not heard due to the climate of jealousy, spite and disdain. Aggression and the desire to win arguments cannot bear the truth. The main reason why most people are far from God is strife, which has become widespread in the world as a result of our sins (Likutey Etzot, Shalom 4).
Reb Noson: The rectification (tikkun) of all multiplicity and diversity within creation, by which everything was restored to Divine Oneness, took place in the Holy Temple – in the Holy of Holies, which was located over the Foundation Stone (Even Shetiyah), where the world began.
Even now, hidden channels and conduits extend from the Foundation Stone to all parts of the world. Each locale differs from the rest due to these channels and conduits. This is why, for example, one place is conducive to growing pepper and another to a different sort of fruit, as our Sages state on the verse, “I made gardens and orchards, and I planted in them every fruit-bearing tree” (Ecclesiastes 2:5).[i] But within the Foundation Stone, all channels and conduits, and all multiplicity and diversity in creation, merge together to become one.
There, at the place of the Foundation Stone, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day of the year and the “day that includes all other days,” according to Rebbe Nachman (Likutey Moharan I, 179). The High Priest could intercede for the people because he was the preeminent figure in the nation and the personification of peace and unity. Therefore Pirkey Avot says of Aaron, the first High Priest, that he "loved peace and pursued peace," and it is written, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it will be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of eternal priesthood” (Numbers 25:12-13).
Through the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish people became united in love and peace. Moreover, all multiplicity in the human dimension, in time and in space became unified through the High Priest, who represented all humanity, when he entered the place of the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. All this we merited as long as the Holy Temple stood! (based on Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRei’ach VeSha'ar Berakhot Pratiyot 4:6).
During his last months, Rebbe Nachman made great efforts to influence the irreligious maskilim (followers of the secular Enlightenment movement) who lived in the city of Uman to return to religious observance. He would answer their questions and discuss their concerns with them for many hours.
After Rebbe Nachman’s funeral, Reb Noson wept profusely. Hirsch Ber Hurwitz, one of the maskilim, said to him, “You miss the Rebbe? We miss the Rebbe! If only the Rebbe had lived, he would have made us all into ba'alei teshuvah and perfect tzaddikim!” (Kokhavey Or, Sippurim Nifla'im, pp. 3-7).
Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace
Reb Noson: Moses was so reluctant to accept his mission at the Burning Bush that even after God argued with him for seven days to accept the mission of redeeming the Jewish people, he still did not wish to do so.[ii] Moses foresaw the spirit of dissension that would prevail due to such individuals as Dathan and Abiram, and the arguments that would lead to the sin of the Golden Calf and bring down suffering on the Jewish people in the future. [iii] He also foresaw how long the final exile would last. On the seventh day, Moses still argued, “I beg You, God, I am not a man of words” (Exodus 4:10). God responded, “Who gave man a mouth? … Is it not I, God? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and instruct you what to say” (ibid., 4:11-12).
In one final attempt to avoid his mission, Moses pleaded, “I beg You, God, please send someone more appropriate!”[iv] To this God answered, “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he is a good speaker. Moreover, he will come out to greet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart!” (ibid., 4:14).
That is, God revealed to Moses that although it was impossible at that time to create perfect peace among the Jewish people by bringing all conflicting viewpoints into accord – this being the precondition for the Redemption – nevertheless, through Aaron and those who would emulate him, the Redemption would come.
God also hinted that in every generation, through those few tzaddikim and upright individuals who would attach themselves to their teacher – the true tzaddik, who embodies the spirit of Moses – the Divine unity would become manifest within the diversity of creation. This itself would bring the complete Redemption.
Therefore our Sages instruct us, “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.” The first Redemption which was accomplished through Moses came on account of Aaron, who joyously went forth to greet his brother and acknowledge his greatness and leadership. Similarly, the final Redemption will come through Elijah, Aaron’s descendant, who will bring peace to the world and herald the arrival of the Mashiach (Likutey Halakhot, Perikah u-Te’inah 4:9).
Reb Noson: Moses and Aaron personify the entire Torah – both the Written Torah and the Oral Law. Moses received the Written Torah and transmitted it orally to his first disciple, his brother, Aaron. Only after the death of Aaron was Joshua privileged to receive the entire Torah from Moses, as the Talmud explicitly states, “Aaron entered first and Moses instructed him.”[v]
Thus the verse, “They shall teach Your judgments to Jacob”[vi] (Deuteronomy 33:10) alludes to Aaron and his sons. For Aaron spiritually empowered the entire Jewish people [collectively referred to as “Israel” or “Jacob”] to draw closer to God when, without any trace of envy, he ran to greet his younger brother, Moses, following the incident of the Burning Bush. As our Sages state, “In the merit of this … Aaron merited to wear the [High Priest’s] breastplate over his heart.”[vii]
Aaron’s altruistic behavior stands in stark contrast to those who, in their jealousy, oppose the true tzaddik. Therefore our Sages taught, “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them close to the Torah” (Likutey Halakhot, Rosh Chodesh 7:43).
How to Speak to Others
Reb Noson: Rebbe Nachman spoke with us many times about the importance of trying to bring people closer to God. He told us to speak with people in such a way as to inspire them, and he even wanted us to speak to people about everyday matters on the chance that the conversation might develop into something that would awaken them spiritually.[viii] If we could elicit the faintest response - a fleeting thought of repentance, or a temporary spiritual inspiration - it would still be worthwhile. How much more so if, in the course of time, through repeated conversation, we might succeed in inspiring them in truth and thus bring them to serve God. He even wanted us to undertake journeys with the express purpose of talking to people.
He told us that there was nothing greater than bringing others back to God. Several times he admonished us for being negligent in this, and once he called us "dry wood"[ix] because we were not bringing others closer to God. Once after the Shabbat, a number of us, including some of his prominent followers, were standing around him and he spoke for several hours, criticizing us for not doing enough (based on Tzaddik #543).
[i] Rashi, ad loc., citing Tanchuma, Kedoshim 10.
[ii] See Rashi on Exodus 4:10, citing Seder Olam Rabbah 5, Tanchuma, Devarim 2.
[iii] Shemot Rabbah 1:29-30; Rashi on Exodus 2:13-14; Siftey Chakhamim, ad loc.
[iv] Based on Shemot Rabbah 3:16, Rashi renders this: “I beg You, God, send [Your people forth] by the hand of the one whom You are accustomed to send” – namely, Aaron. Based on Pirkey de-Rabbi Eliezer 40, Rashi then offers a second interpretation that Moses meant to say, “Send someone else – anyone but me – for I am not destined to bring them into the Land and be their future redeemer. You have many messengers!”
[v] Eruvin 54b, based on Exodus 34:31-32. See Rashi there; also Rambam, Introduction to the Mishnah.
[vi] The entire verse reads: “They shall teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to
shall place incense in Your Presence and burnt offerings upon Your altar.” Israel
[vii] Rashi on Exodus 4:14, citing Shabbat 139a.
[viii] This concept is mentioned in Rebbe Nachman’s “Tale of the Master of Prayer” (Rabbi Nachman’s Stories #12), which is the prototype for the Rebbe’s ideas about religious outreach. The Master of Prayer would leave his Eden-like retreat in the forest to venture forth into society and converse with people about the meaning of life and Divine service. He trained his followers to do the same.
[ix] Cf. Isaiah 56:3, Ezekiel 17:24, et al.