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Shabbat Parashat Chukat | 5768

Leaders Change but History Still Repeats Itself

Parashat Hashavua

Harav Yosef Carmel


When comparing this generation’s leaders with great historical leaders like Moshe, Aharon, and Shmuel, about whom we have learned in the latest parshiyot and haftarot, we cannot but long for such outstanding leadership. However, when taking a look at the p’sukim, we see that despite their greatness, leaders of old were not always appreciated. In fact, they even suffered violent rebellions. The Torah spells out its rejection of Korach’s rebellion and the punishment of its perpetrators. Sometimes a whole story is only hinted at. One such case is found (in coded form) in our parasha.

The Torah relates the great public mourning that accompanied the death of Moshe’s brother and partner, Aharon (Bamidbar 20: 28-29). However, we need Chazal’s insight to appreciate the extent of the upheaval his death caused. From the proximity of the relevant p’sukim, they deduce that with Aharon’s death, the special divine clouds disappeared, which, in turn, invited the Canaanites of Arad to attack (Ta’anit 9a).

The Yerushalmi (Yoma 1, 1) goes a step further. When tracing the order of Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert, we see that after Aharon’s death, they turn up in places they had previously been mentioned to have gone through several encampments before (see Devarim 10:6-7). This is coupled with a look at the families that are mentioned and are missing respectively from different genealogies of the time. Chazal concluded that in the panic after Aharon’s death, a significant portion of Bnei Yisrael reversed their steps with the intention of returning to Egypt and were pursued by people from the tribe of Levi. They met in civil battle in Moseira, and whole families from each side were decimated.

What lesson can we learn from this little-known crisis in Bnei Yisrael? One lesson for all generations is to not use one’s lack of satisfaction with the quality or accomplishments of the generation’s leader as an excuse for the nation’s behavior. Don’t think that if we only had a leader like Moshe, Aharon, and Shmuel that we would all fall into line. They too had to fight opposition and lack of stability, whose source was from within the nation. Such leaders were not handed things on a silver platter but had to prove their qualities in the face of adversity. They had to withstand a fragmented society that included people on a variety of levels of belief. The need to choose well, within the realm of free will, is always present.

The second lesson is to the leaders, who might be tempted to blame their troubles on the people and lose sight of their own failures. Leadership is a heavy yoke, which always raises challenges. Only someone who is willing to give of himself selflessly, stressing the people’s needs and ignoring his own, can join the likes of the great historical leaders about whom we have learned. May we merit such leaders soon.

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld


 Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of

Max and Mary Sutker

 and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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