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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

There is only one blessing that is said where the expression “with love,” באהבה is used. It is the last word in the blessing recited by the Kohanim right before they bestow God’s threefold blessing on the congregation. “Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron and has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.”

We might ask, as Tina Turner did in her hit song of 1993, “What’s love got to do with it?” Also, why does the middle of this blessing include an insert of special praise to Aaron, “who sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron?” Why don’t we say something about Moshe in the middle of every blessing before we perform all other mitzvot? Why don’t we insert special praise recognizing the great rabbinic courts that created the rabbinic mitzvot that we perform like reading Megilat Esther or lighting the Chanukah menorah?

Aaron was a unique individual. Later in the Torah, when Aaron’s death is recorded, it mentions that he was mourned by the entire nation of Israel. “…and the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.” (Bamidbar20:29) That was not the case for Moshe. Referring to the weeping for Moshe at his death the word “entire” is not mentioned. (Devarim 34:8) The key to the personality of Aaron is found in a Mishnah in Pirkey Avot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 12. There it states, “Hillel says, ‘Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah.’”

The commentaries on this Mishnah (Rashi, Rambam, and Rabbenu Yonah) all bring down the same Talmudic stories about Aaron. Each one describes a different aspect of his love for humanity, how far he would go to make peace and how it manifested itself. Regarding quarreling and bickering between people, he would go to each one separately. Without the other knowing. he would say to each how the other fellow fell before him and plead with him to come and say he wants to straighten things out. He taught people how to get beyond their petty differences. In this way, he brought people back to friendship.

It is recorded that he asked a husband to spit in his eye in order for the husband to fulfill a swear he had made against his wife in anger. He would deprecate or even humiliate himself if necessary to bring people back together. And if the man was a sinner and Aaron heard about it, he would go and befriend the sinner. The sinner would think how could Aaron the High Priest befriend him? Aaron must think I am a good and righteous person. To live up to this new self-image the sinner would do teshuva and become a truly righteous person to maintain Aaron’s friendship.

Why did Aaron act this way with total strangers? He truly loved all humanity and wanted them to have the best possible life, a life of harmony and peace centered on the Torah’s values. Only in such a frame of mind, when a person has no unruly parts to his personality, can the person study and implement the Torah’s way of life. The person will then gain the greatest benefit, a relationship and closeness to God through the comprehension of God’s wisdom.

This good is what Aaron wanted for all people. It is the greatest good any person can achieve. Aaron new the great benefit of the Torah’s way of life. Out of his love for God and to bring about God’s will for humanity,  Aaron’s end game was always “to bring people closer to Torah.” He wanted to help give them the opportunity to attain the best possible life as well. He didn’t selfishly guard his relationship with God. Rather he sought out, “pursued,” as the Mishnah says, that everyone should partake of Torah and its way of life on their level. He was a truly holy, generous and magnanimous person. Through his existence, the people of Israel were sanctified and in turn brought to a higher level of existence as well.

Aaron’s personality is the one we should emulate. Aaron’s life personified the highest love of God manifested by his efforts to help all people achieve the closeness to God. They loved him for the sincere and genuine love he had for them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan