I was told that people don’t quite know what to do with the dear friends opening. When I was in high school I attended a class in which the subject was letter writing. We were told that every letter must have a complimentary greeting, a body which contains the information that is meant to be conveyed in the letter, and a complimentary closure. I didn’t know who decided the format of every letter that I have written since, and to tell you the truth, it never occurred to me to question a rule that is so universally accepted. Until today. Someone suggested that it sounds like a form letter (sort of like, the “Dear Occupant” letters that arrive periodically and never have good news), so I tried something new. I want you to know that I actually think about you when I write to you.
This isn’t the only new thing that I tried since last letter. Weds night, I went to the tombs of Elazar and Itamar, a place that I had never been to in all my years in Eretz Yisrael. The tombs are located in an Arab village called Awara (which means blind in Arabic, a fact that I am sure you all find fascinating). Periodically an organization that promotes maintaining a closer relationship to the Land and to the tombs of the tzaddikim arranges this kind of tour. They have permission from the authorities to visit places that are usually outside of Israeli jurisdiction. The army takes care of the security (and so far, things were always smooth on these tours). As soon as I heard about it, I made reservations. About 400 people from all over the country were there. I don’t know what brought them all. For me two motivations fought for first place. One was the desire to experience a part of Israel that I have never seen.
Each part of the Land has its own poetry and grace, as you probably felt when you were here. The other was the connection with these two tzaddikim. Elazar and Itamar were Aharon’s surviving sons (two had died in his lifetime). Elazar especially was very involved in assisting Aharon in his duties as Kohein Gadol. The anniversary of Aharon’s death (which is the only day-of-death mentioned explicitly by date in the Torah) was Thursday, the very next day, so I wanted to connect to his merit via a visit to the tomb of his sons.
I always felt a deep longing to integrate what Aharon represented. He was simultaneously a person who loved peace and principle. They knew that he loved them, and that they could turn to him when things unravel. He could bring enemies together and heal what was broken. As full of love as he was, he was simultaneously a person of principle. Love didn’t equal blind tolerance to falsehood. He wasn’t the kind of person for whom all ideas are equally as valid because they are all ideas. His morality couldn’t be adjusted to fit all sizes. How did he retain his principles without losing his capacity to love each and every Jew?
Maharal explains that he believed in people so sincerely and so deeply that on one hand he could “discover” the part of anyone that genuinely wants to have an authentic relationship with their spouse, friend or neighbor. He knew that no one gets up in the morning saying, “whose life can I ruin today?”. People are people. They have desires and agendas that can be corrupting. Even so, underneath it all they still want to love and be loved. His method involved him going to one person involved in a quarrel (let’s call her Lisa) and say, “I just spoke to Jenny. She feels terrible about what she said. She’s so ashamed! I know that she doesn’t have the courage to bring up the things that she said, and I also know that she regrets what happened. Listen to my advice, when you see Jenny next, don’t bring up what happened. She will be so relieved, and you can just start where you left off. Aharon would (very quickly) head to Jenny and tell her the same thing, just reversing the names, so that now Lisa is the one who is so full of regret. They would meet, start off a conversation that was free of blame, criticism, anger of complaints, and the friendship would be saved. I so admired this method of making peace that I tried it a few times.
It didn’t work.
The people both figured out what game I was playing. This did unite them. They both called me “controlling” and “manipulative”. Ahh, such a pleasure to see them sharing ideas, and finding common ground. Sort of.
My attempts were doomed to begin with. My problem was that I didn’t believe what I said.
Aharon did. He genuinely believed that under the layers of ego that we snuggle under to find comfort, we really do want peace with each other. Aharon loved the kind of peace that’s called “shalom” which is related to the word, “shalem” which means whole. Shalom is the recognition that each of us adds something to the world. Their peace of the puzzle can’t be replaced. If you want to be whole, live in a world that is whole, and to be able to feel the tranquility that comes from experiencing wholeness, you have to make choices. You can either ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person. What can I give them?” or you can focus on “What can this person do for me? Why do I need them in my life”? The problem with option B is that the reality is that you will be left with a mirror rather than a window. You will see nothing beyond yourself.
People are both whole and lacking (What? People aren’t perfect?).
If you believe in human potential than the last thing that you will do is be patronizing. When you catch someone failing to do what the right thing is, or worse still, opening the pandora’s box of ego and desire again and again, denial isn’t constructive (although there is great value in trying to be sure that you are not jumping to negative conclusions). If you are like Aharon you will think “How could a person with such amazing potential miss the boat? You will make demands on people because you believe in them. There are things that can’t be re-negotiated. Shabbos. Kosher. Tzinius. Praying. Have expectations. That’s the ultimate statement of love, it comes with expectations and came close to making demands. This is the kind of love that Aharon had, and the kind that his people mourned.
It’s hard to come by. The Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because we lost our love for each other, and our unity. The Talmud calls this “senseless hatred”. It doesn’t have to be violent or loud. It can be silent and dismissive.
Have a meaningful fast on Tisha B’Av, and try to find the Aharon in you!