Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Parashat Hukat: We Are Not Worthy

We Are Not Worthy
A Message for Parashat Hukat 2016
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וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן...קַח אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ וְהַעַל אֹתָם הֹר הָהָר. וְהַפְשֵׁט אֶת אַהֲרֹן אֶת בְּגָדָיו וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּם אֶת אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ וְאַהֲרֹן יֵאָסֵף וּמֵת שָׁם. וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶל הֹר הָהָר לְעֵינֵי כָּל הָעֵדָה. וַיַּפְשֵׁט מֹשֶׁה אֶת אַהֲרֹן אֶת בְּגָדָיו וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֶת אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ וַיָּמָת אַהֲרֹן שָׁם בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר. וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר מִן הָהָר.
And God said to Moshe and Aharon…“Take Aharon and Eleazar his son and bring them up Hor the mountain. And strip Aharon of his garments and clothe with them Eleazar his son, and Aharon will be gathered up and will die there.” And Moshe did as God had charged and they went up Hor the mountain before the eyes of all the community. And Moshe stripped Aharon of his garments and clothed with them Eleazar his son, and Aharon died there on the mountain top. And Moshe came down, and Eleazar with him, from the mountain.
(Bemidbar 20:23-29)

As we read that the great leader Aharon was informed of his imminent death, it is most appropriate to expect an ensuing description of his actions during his last moments alive. It is natural to anticipate a parting scene dominated by the “leading role Aharon.” The Torah ironically teaches instead what Moshe did at this time. Acting “as God had charged,” Moshe led Aharon and Eleazar up the mountain, Moshe stripped Aharon of his garments and Moshe then clothed Eleazar. In a markedly unexpected passage, the scene of Aharon’s death is painted not by his own actions, but by those of Moshe.

Viewed as part of the broader portrait of Aharon’s life as a leader, however, this depiction of his death is not so surprising. Consider his emergent identity in the Torah, upon Moshe’s return to Egypt after many years away. Whereas Moshe was first raised a prince and then escaped to Midyan for some time, Aharon was born and bred a loyal member of a nation of tormented slaves. Understanding these circumstances, who could blame Aharon if he felt jealous upon learning that his younger brother was appointed leader of that nation? But it was not so. God informed Moshe, “…Look, he (Aharon) is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, his heart will rejoice” (Shemot 4:15). And so it was.

Thus began Aharon’s career as the comfortable “secondary leader” of Am Yisrael. He lived the rest of his life with the poise of a man whole-heartedly content with his appointed role in the shadows of his brother.

Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once related an experience that he shared with my rosh yeshivah, Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, z”l. Rabbi Finkel, who stood at the head of the largest yeshivah in history, once approached the Kotel with Shultz. Rabbi Finkel unexpectedly stopped and stood in his place some thirty feet from the wall. Shultz beckoned him further, but Rabbi Finkel explained, “I’ve never been closer than this.” Asked why, he quietly answered, “You go. I’m not worthy.” Shultz thus designated Rabbi Finkel the paradigmatic “servant leader,” a man who consistently put others first and led from the heart.[1]

True leaders don’t seek the limelight of self-exposure, nor the satisfaction of public recognition. They are satisfied with working from “behind the scenes,” and are in constant thought of how to better the lives of those around them. Learning from the life of Aharon we must recall Rabbi Finkel’s poignant remark and lesson – “We are not worthy.”

[1] America Deserves a Servant Leader, Op-Ed for The New York Times on Aug. 6th, 2015, available at: nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/america-deserves-a servant-leader.html?_r=0.