Ahron Hakohen, Alav HaShalom

Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av begins this Sunday night, July 11, 2010 at sunset.  It is also the Yahrzeit of Aaron, older brother of Moses and the first High Priest.  Please read the following thoughts for this time from Reb Zalman.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

The Yahrzeit of Ahron The High Priest

I am a kohen, a descendent Ahron.  (This, I was also able to verify through genetic testing.)

Descendents of Ahron have a particular genetic marker regardless of whether they are Ashkenazi or Yemenites.

I’ve given myself over to contemplating the life of my ancestor, the high priest.

Once, when I was at the Kotel, the sacred wall of the Temple, there were five rows across the plaza of Kohanim offering the priestly blessing to the people of Jerusalem and to the whole world, urbi et orbi / to the city and to the world.  It was very impressive.

Ahron, the high priest, is always faulted for having built The Golden Calf.

In my imagination I see my ancestor beleaguered by people who are missing Moses, their leader and their contact with the living God, therefore asking Ahron to make them “a God that shall lead them” (cf., Exodus 32:1, ff).  We read that he made them a Golden calf and that they worshiped it. 

I see, in my mind’s eye, an image in which the statue that he made was draped in a cloth and that the people are standing in front of it in great anticipation.

Now imagine along with me:

We are in the present, and I, Zalman, am as my ancestor, in his role, and people are asking me to make them a God. 

And here it is:  I have produced a statue for them which I’m about to unveil.

Wanting to show them how ridiculous their request is, I’ve chosen Mickey Mouse for the statue. 

I covered it with a cloth and I’m about to unveil it.

With a flourish, I pull down the cloth and say “this is your God O Israel!”

And I expect the people to get the point and then slink away in shame for having made such a foolish request. 

This, too, is the way I see what happened when Ahron unveiled the golden calf.

The trouble is, however, that when it comes to religion, people don’t have a sense of humor or irony and they take it literally. 

Oy! Oy! What a pity!  What problems this attitude creates.

Today, we are not, I believe, any much better when we take a look and consider the idols that we worship in our own day.

There was another aspect of Ahron‘s work: As a priest who heard the confessions of people and offered sacrifices for them, he had a great deal of empathy and compassion for them.

The rule is that one could only offer a sacrifice for unintentional sins, but for intentional sins, one had to suffer a penalty.

So, when a person came to Ahron with a confession that claimed s/he had committed an intentional sin, Ahron would query hir.  (In order to commit an intentional sin one has to know God and intend to rebel against Hir.)

“Do you really know God?

“Did you really intend to sin and rebel against God?

This compassionate interaction with Ahron brought the penitent to deep regret, by proving to hir that in reality s/he did not have either an awareness of who God was nor a desire to rebel against Hir.

And this, in turn, opened the possibility for Ahron to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the penitent and for freedom from hir guilt.

According to tradition, it was the first of MenachemAv that Ahron went up to the mountain with Moses and embraced his death willingly as he was kissed by the divine presence.

May he bring us also, on this day, observed as his yahrzeit, to a reconciliation with the living God.

May he imbue us also with his intention to look at religion not in a literal way but with a wider awareness and humor.

2 Responses to “Ahron Hakohen, Alav HaShalom”

  1. Helena Berger Says:

    My reply


  2. Suzie Muchnick Says:


    You are so right! When it comes to religious beliefs, people do NOT have a sense of irony and take things way too literally.

Leave a Reply