TRANSCENDING EMOTIONS
June 7, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1071, B'Haalos'cha, Parsha Thought

AHARON DISMAYED

In last week’s parsha, Naso, we learned about the gift offerings the leaders of each tribe brought for the inauguration of the Altar. According to Rashi, Aharon felt badly that he was not chosen to bring the dedicatory offering on behalf of his tribe, the Levites, although the leaders of all the other tribes did so.

In this week’s parsha, G-d consoles Aharon by telling him that his role is far more significant than that of the other leaders because “he would prepare and light the Menorah.”

There are many questions regarding this saga.

THE FIVE QUESTIONS

First, why did Aharon wait to express his chagrin at not being chosen until after all the tribes brought their sacrifices? Why didn’t he complain at the outset?

The simple answer is that he did not know that he would be excluded until the other tribes finished bringing their offerings. Only when Aharon realized that he had been passed over for the honor did he express his hurt feelings.

However, the question can be rephrased. In the beginning of the book of Numbers the tribe of Levi was excluded from the general census. G-d had them counted separately because the tribe of Levi was chosen to be G-d’s “personal” legion.

Considering the tribe of Levi’s superior role, Aharon should have been the very first leader selected to bring a dedicatory sacrifice.

Thus the question returns: why didn’t Aharon complain when he was not asked to be the first to bring a dedicatory offering?

Second: Who prevented Aharon from bringing his own offering? These were personal offerings from the tribal leaders themselves. If Aharon chose not to bring the offering, how could he later complain?

Third: Why did G-d console him by saying he had the greater role because he would prepare and light the Menorah? What does lighting the Menorah have to do with bringing a dedicatory sacrifice? Are they mutually exclusive? Would it have been so difficult for Aharon to bring the dedicatory sacrifice and also light the Menorah.

Fourth: Why did G-d have to console him at all? Weren’t Aharon, and his tribe, the ones to offer all the daily and festival sacrifices? Only a Kohen was permitted to offer the animal, bird or flour on the Altar. Isn’t his role obviously greater? After all, the sacrifices brought by the leaders of each tribe required the service of the Kohen at the Altar.

Fifth: How could Aharon think that he was not part of the dedication of the Mishkan when, in fact, he furnished the ultimate sacrifice? Aharon’s two sons were consumed by the Divine fire at the Altar. Moshe told Aharon that this fulfilled G-d’s words that He would be sanctified through their sacrifice. How could Aharon think that he was found lacking in bringing a sacrifice?

CHANUKAH

The answer to all of these questions lies in the word that Rashi uses to describe the offerings of the tribal leaders: Chanukah. This word, which is also the name of a Holiday, is translated as inauguration or dedication. It is a cognate to the word chinuch, which means education. It is also related to chein, which means charm of grace. The term connotes not just an initial act but one that instills new life, excitement, joy and a sense of purpose in one’s life.

When Rashi says that “he saw the inauguration of the leaders,” Aharon was not thinking of the sacrifices they brought, for he knew they were minor compared to his major and exalted role in the Mishkan.

What troubled Aharon was that he saw how the act of bringing the offerings actually changed the leaders themselves. First, they were dedicated and inspired enough to offer the sacrifices. Second, when they brought the sacrifices to the Mishkan they were again uplifted; they felt renewed and invigorated both emotionally and spiritually. They were no longer the same people they were before this.

Aharon felt badly that all of what he did, including the terrible sacrifice of his sons, did not appear to affect his emotional or spiritual state. In his mind he remained the same Aharon; he did not feel that he had been transformed. He did not feel more dedicated and inspired; in his mind, he was not part of the dedication process at all, regardless of the great things that he accomplished.

This premise can help us shed some light on an enigmatic statement in the Torah: “Aharon did so… as G-d had commanded Moshe.” Rashi comments: “This teaches the praise of Aharon that he did not deviate (literally ‘he did not change’).”

Commentators have been puzzled by this statement. Isn’t it obvious that Aharon would not deviate from G-d’s commandment to him? Who could think otherwise?

One may propose that even after Aharon performed the service that G-d said was superior to the service of the other leaders it still did not affect a change in him. Notwithstanding that he did not feel any more invigorated and inspired, Aharon still did as he was told; it mattered not that it had no effect on him.

EMOTIONAL BLUNTING?

There seems to be a troubling pattern here. Aharon, the paragon of love, the man of unbounded kindness, was becoming emotionally numb. This emotional pattern seems to have begun when he lost his two sons. The Torah says that “Aharon was silent.” He was unable to show any emotion.

According to this interpretation, Aharon did not feel any spiritual boost when he performed his service in the Mishkan. And if our interpretation is correct, even after he lit the Menorah Aharon was still emotionally detached. It did not change him emotionally.

What was going on in Aharon’s life?

A secular psychologist might opine that he was so traumatized by the loss of his sons that he could not emote. However, a Chassidic approach to this matter yields a completely opposite explanation.

TRANSCENDING EMOTION

Aharon had reached a spiritual level where he felt so inspired and uplifted that it transcended emotion.

Emotions derive from our recognition of the positive or negative value of someone or something. Emotions are a gauge of how close or distant we are to the other person, situation or thing. If we feel how special the other person is, we will develop a feeling of love for that person. The same is true for fear, hate and all the other emotions. Love is also a sense of yearning for something you don’t yet have and pine to get closer to.

However, when the two things merge into one; when we reach the object of our desire, we transcend emotion. There is no longer a need to emote because we have reached and have become one with our goal.

YAAKOV RECITES THE SHMA

We can find another example of transcending emotion with Yaakov when he was finally reunited with his son Yoseph. Yaakov showed no emotion when Yoseph fell on his neck, embraced him and cried. Rashi says: “he [Yaakov] was reading the Shma!”

Yaakov’s bizarre lack of feeling for his most beloved son at such a powerful moment of reunification can be explained in light of the above. Yaakov had reached the epitome of his love for Yoseph, because Yaakov had reached the epitome of oneness with G-d expressed in and through the recitation of the Shma. He was not cold and indifferent to Yoseph. He was at one with Yoseph because Yoseph had now become part of his experience of oneness with G-d.

This, we may suggest, is at the heart of Aharon’s “coldness.” Aharon had reached the state of oneness with G-d which transcends even the most heightened awareness of G-d’s emotion engendering light. Aharon was connected and at one with G-d’s essence.

AHARON’S HUMILITY

Aharon, in his humility, however, attributed his own silence and lack of emotion as a sign that his mind was weak. Without a strong intellect one cannot elicit the deepest emotions.

When Rashi describes Aharon’s reaction to not being part of the dedication ceremony he uses the term, “Chalsha da’ato,” which literally means his “daas-knowledge” became weak. What did Rashi mean?

Daas is the intellectual power that generates emotion. One whose emotions are occluded will generally lack daas.

Aharon therefore thought that his lack of emotion was attributable to his weak intellectual faculties.

In truth, Aharon was mistaken about himself. Aharon was not, as he thought, beneath a heightened and sophisticated level of understanding; he was above it. He had reached the climax of attachment to the oneness of G-d and transcended palpable emotions.

Nevertheless, Aharon felt badly that he was denied the ability to experience more emotion along with other less sophisticated people. It gets lonely on top where you are the only one who has this heightened level and yearn to share in the feelings of the rest of the people.

So how did G-d respond to his unhappiness?

HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT TOO

G-d told him that in the end he would also enjoy the emotions that others feel. Aharon’s role was to prepare and light the Menorah which metaphorically means that he was to kindle and prepare the souls of others for a heightened consciousness and passion for G-d. While Aharon may, at certain times, remain above the realm of emotion, he will nevertheless be able to ignite the emotions of all others. As a result, Aharon too would be affected and be able to feel their emotions.

Rashi concludes thus: “Yours is greater than theirs.” One can interpret this in two ways:

First, Aharon’s role transcends that of the others, for he is above conventional emotional attachments.

Second, Aharon’s role is greater because “you will get it from them.” Aharon will not lose because of his higher level; he will also share some of the emotion of others because he helped them develop it. When we help someone with something we are rewarded with the same.

In the Messianic Age we will be able to have our proverbial cake and eat it too. We will, on the one hand, experience total unity with G-d and transcend limited emotional attachments. Our relationship with G-d will be with His very Essence. This relationship is consummated as a result of our commitment to fulfilling G-d’s Will even when we feel no emotion; just doing what G-d wants of us even when, as with Aharon, we may not feel we’ve changed emotionally and spiritually.

On the other hand, because of the way we kindle the souls of others and bring them excitement we will also be rewarded with the joy and excitement from basking in the G-dly manifestations.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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