Ari Hart

Where Peace is Buried

Unlike his brother Moshe, we know where Aharon, the pursuer of peace, the healer of wounds between people, is buried. In parashat Masei, we will read:

“They set out from Kadesh and encamped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom. Aharon the priest ascended Mount Hor at the command of the Lord and died there.” (Numbers, 33)

Why is Aharon buried at the border between Edom and Israel?

Edom is not any kingdom. Edom represents the line of Esav, the Jewish people’s ancestral rival. The border between these two was tense: a site of potential violence and vulnerability. It was the meeting point of two peoples with ancient grudges that flare up, again and again. The grudges trace their way back to fundamental, incompatible narratives about claims and rights and identity. Human conflict that becomes tribal conflict, national conflict, military conflict.

And at that tense, bloody border rests Aharon, the pursuer of peace.

As troops marched past his grave on their way to fight with Edom, perhaps his drive was a kind of waypoint; a reminder when we must go into battle, and there are times we must, of two hopes for peace.

The first is the hope of peace amongst the Jewish people. When facing an existential enemy, the biggest weakness is disharmony and fragmentation. Peace amongst a people is the antidote, because peace brings unity. When we put aside our grudges and complaints with one another and focus on achieving a collective mission to stand, united, against that which would destroy us, we are strong. A unified people can also support each other in collective pain and loss. Aaron’s peace brings us there.

Buried deeper still is the hope of peace for an ancient, seeming impossible conflict. It’s a conflict that no one starts, but every child inherits. Even for Jacob and Esav, the wrestling begins in the womb, before they were born. But as the Torah teaches, even a conflict that deep, the fundamnetal narratives that incompatible, can be resolved. Jacob and Esau would have never guessed the last time they saw each that their tears, not their hands, would fall on each other’s necks. Aharon’s burial is then, perhaps, a reminder. Yes, even here,  even at this border, peace is possible. 

In these days, as we find ourselves crossing dangerous borders, let us take that spirit of Aharon with us: 

“Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah.” (Pirkei Avot, 1)

This shabbat I’m praying for the peace and unity of the Jewish people in the face of great threat as we fight for our right to survive in this world. And peace for the children who must inherit the world we leave them. May it rise.

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Hart is the spiritual leader of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob, a modern orthodox synagogue in Skokie, Illinois.