This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H,  & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.


עֵקֶב  ~ Eikev

“The Fault in Our Heroes”

[10:1-6] “At that time, Hashem said to me: ‘Carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones and ascend to Me to the mountain, and make for yourself a wooden ark. And I shall inscribe on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke and place them into the ark…’ And the B’nei Yisrael traveled forth from Be’eiros B’nei Ya’akan to Moseirah; there Aharon died, and he was buried there, and his son Elazar became the Kohein in his place.” בָּעֵ֨ת הַהִ֜וא אָמַ֧ר ה׳ אֵלַ֗י פְּסָל־לְךָ֞ שְׁנֵֽי־לוּחֹ֤ת אֲבָנִים֙ כָּרִ֣אשֹׁנִ֔ים וַֽעֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֖י הָהָ֑רָה וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ לְּךָ֖ אֲ֥רוֹן עֵֽץ
וְאֶכְתֹּב֙ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת אֶ֨ת־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הָי֛וּ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֥ת הָרִֽאשֹׁנִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר שִׁבַּ֑רְתָּ וְשַׂמְתָּ֖ם בָּֽאָרֽוֹן

וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל נָֽסְע֛וּ מִבְּאֵרֹ֥ת בְּנֵי־יַֽעֲקָ֖ן מֽוֹסֵרָ֑ה שָׁ֣ם מֵ֤ת אַֽהֲרֹן֙ וַיִּקָּבֵ֣ר שָׁ֔ם וַיְכַהֵ֛ן אֶלְעָזָ֥ר בְּנ֖וֹ תַּחְתָּֽיו

     As Moshe Rabbeinu continues to lecture the B’nei Yisrael about the sins of its past, he turns his attention to the Cheit HaEigel, the Sin of the Golden Calf, and the fallout which saw Moshe’s controversial shattering of the Luchos (Tablets of the Covenant) [Devarim 9:7-10:5; See Shemos 32 for the actual event]. Immediately after, Moshe casually addresses the death of his brother Aharon HaKohein [10:6], “U’V’nei Yisrael Nas’u MiBe’eiros B’nei Ya’akan…Sham Meis Aharon…”-“And the B’nei Yisrael traveled forth from Be’eiros B’nei Ya’akan…there Aharon died…”

Now, as innocent as Moshe’s story looks on its own, anyone who knows the simple history and timeline should be bothered. Aharon’s death occurred about forty years after the Moshe shattered the Luchos! Why, then, would Moshe just skip around and jump forty years through the timeline when recounting it to the B’nei Yisrael?

The simple answer to our question is that Moshe never intended to tell Israel’s story in a specific order or with a specific timeline in mind. This much is actually evident from the fact that back in Parshas Devarim, the first thing Moshe rebukes the people for is the Cheit HaMiraglim, the Sin of the Spies, which preceded the Cheit HaEigel. Thus, whatever Moshe is choosing to speak about and, when and where he chooses to do so is significant. That might explain somewhat why Chazzal say that everyone agrees that in Sefer Devarim, we are supposed to Darshin Semuchim, to extrapolate or derive from juxtaposed passages [Brachos 21B]. So, apparently, in Moshe’s stream of consciousness, there is an apparent connection between the two topics, namely, the Cheit HaEigel and Aharon’s death. Now, what might that be?
This question, if one thinks about it for even a moment, is not such a difficult one. What does the Cheit HaEigel have to do with Aharon’s death? Well, on the surface, Aharon himself has a lot to do with the Cheit HaEigel as we know that he was the one who ultimately crafted it, albeit in attempt to stall the spiritually hungry B’nei Yisrael and keep them from engaging in any more aggressive and harmful behavior. Since this noble plan was obviously a mistake and backfired when the people worshipped the calf, Aharon would likely carry some of the blame. This role Aharon played in the Sin of the Golden Calf and ultimately in Moshe’s shattering of the Luchos might explain why his death is mentioned immediately after. Much like we’ve observed concerning Moshe Rabbeinu and that entire first generation of the Wilderness, Aharon’s sin would prevent him from entering the Promised Land. Hence, Aharon passed away some forty years later before the next generation of Israel would enter the land.

As it turns out, our question as to why Moshe casually juxtaposes Aharon HaKohein’s death to the fallout of the Cheit HaEigel has been addressed by many commentators, among them, the Malbim, who basically suggests this very answer—Aharon died when he did because of his involvement in the Cheit HaEigel. More specifically, the Malbim writes that at the fallout of the Golden Calf scene, Moshe mentions here that he prayed on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael and on Aharon’s behalf as well [Devarim 9:18-20]. However, Moshe’s prayer for Aharon was not completely accepted, thus, Moshe indicates that Aharon died before he could ever enter the Promised Land [citing Sifra 96:165].

With all of the above in mind, it makes sense to take the juxtaposition as implication that the circumstances of Aharon’s death were a result of the Sin of the Golden Calf.

The problem is though that if one looks throughout the Torah, we do not see such implications anywhere else, that Aharon is punished for having crafted the Golden Calf. Moreover, quite explicitly, Aharon’s death is ascribed to a completely different sin, namely, that of Mei Merivah, the Waters of Strife [B’Midbar 20]. In a somewhat obscure ordeal, Moshe and Aharon are blamed for not sanctifying G-d’s Name by talking to the rock to retrieve water for the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe and Aharon gathered the people together and, in what looked like an act of anger, Moshe hit the rock, whereupon G-d banned both Moshe and Aharon from entering the Promised Land. And if there is still any doubt as to why it was that Aharon had to pass on when he did, look no further than the scene of his death Hashem explicitly ascribes his death to happenings at Mei Merivah [B’Midbar 20:24]. So, before we get to the more obvious question as to how Aharon could take any blame for Mei Merivah, we have to ask what exactly it was that caused Aharon to lose his opportunity to enter the Land of Israel. Was it his role in the Cheit HaEigel or at Mei Merivah?

So, for this question, the Malbim and Abarbanel (alternatively, Abravanel) both more or less cite the Midrash Tanchuma, explaining that the scene of Mei Merivah was really an “Alilah,” a pretext or an “excuse” that Hashem was using to forbid both Moshe and Aharon from entering the Promised Land. In other words, Mei Merivah, on its own, was not a good reason to withhold them from entering the Promised Land, and in fact, it wasn’t the reason! Moshe and Aharon both respectively had a role in a previous sin which ultimately kept them from entering the land. Aharon, as we’ve explained, had a role in the Cheit HaEigel, while Moshe had a role in the Cheit HaMiraglim, the Sin of the Spies who slandered Hashem’s land to the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe is given the blame for his acquiescence to the spy mission which was apparently a mistake from the outset. In fact, the Malbim points out that despite what Hashem said at the scene of Mei Merivah, Moshe specified earlier in Devarim that it was because of the Sin of the Spies that G-d banned him from entering the Land of Israel [Devarim 1:37]. Apparently, Mei Merivah was not the reason alone.

So, why exactly does G-d look for a new pretext against Moshe and Aharon? Explains the Malbim, so that we shouldn’t say that Moshe and Aharon didn’t enter the land because of those earlier sins, but rather the more mild sin of Mei Merivah. Indeed, as negatively as Mei Merivah might reflect on Moshe and Aharon, certainly, the Golden Calf and failed spy mission stand as the ugliest stains on that generation’s track record, let alone, the record of their leaders who played a role in them. Bear in mind though, it’s not like Hashem was trying to keep it a secret—at least not to us, because we know about the sins; rather, Hashem was trying to convey for generations how He holds these individuals, Moshe and Aharon, in such a high regard, that He would not stand to bunch them in the same exact sins as the rest of the people. Thus, Hashem acted out of Kavod (honor) for Moshe and Aharon.

As interesting as all of this information is, it is also quite troubling. Because if we’re understanding the Malbim correctly, Moshe was apparently sentenced to die in the desert because of the sin which the spies and the rest of the nation committed! The spies slandered the land while the rest of the nation bought it and rebelled against Hashem’s instructions that they enter the land. Meanwhile, Moshe didn’t actively do anything! How can he be treated so harshly because of it?

In the same exact vein, we can return to a similar question we’ve already mentioned regarding Aharon, namely, how we can even pretend that Mei Merivah was partially Aharon’s sin when he literally did nothing wrong there. Granted, Moshe hit the rock, but, what did Aharon do? Was he Moshe’s accomplice in all of this? He merely gathered the people together with Moshe. That’s it. And while yes, the Malbim already explained that Aharon was not really penalized for Mei Merivah, and that really, as implied by our text here in Parshas Eikev, he was punished primarily for the Cheit HaEigel, the question still is how we can even use Mei Merivah as a theoretical pretext against Aharon when his involvement at Mei Merivah was passive if anything.

Thus, both Moshe at the Cheit HaMiraglim, and Aharon at Mei Merivah, should not get blame, of any weight, not for those particular sins.
So, it could be that although we’ve pointed out that Mei Merivah, more than anything else, was a pretext against Moshe and Aharon, and not the real means for their sentence to death outside Israel, it could be that maybe, there is more underlying the scene of Mei Merivah. While yes, Mei Merivah, by itself, was a mere pretext, perhaps in some way—maybe in the grander scheme—Mei Merivah was a confirmation and a reinforcement for Moshe and Aharon’s former sins.

What this means is that we should not look at Mei Merivah, or any of the other sins—Cheit HaEigel and Cheit HaMiraglim—in a vacuum, but rather, together in a larger context. Aharon was involved in the Cheit HaEigel, and then Mei Merivah, while Moshe was involved in the Cheit HaMiraglim, and then Mei Merivah. And we’ve mentioned that both individuals had a passive role in one of these sins. Conversely though, we should now acknowledge that each of these individuals also had an active role in their other sin as Aharon actively engaged in the crafting of the calf and Moshe actively hit the rock. So, maybe, we can understand Mei Merivah, the mild, “pretext” scene, as the compliment to the earlier sins. How so?

Let’s take Moshe first. Moshe’s blame at the Cheit HaMiraglim was due to his acquiescence, his passivity. He made a mistake because of the pressure of the people. Softness and passivity that result in sin and a disgrace to G-d is not virtuous. However, that is not to say that there is no right context for softness and passivity, say, when it is in accordance with the Will of G-d. In fact, if that same softness and passivity was present at Mei Merivah, when G-d merely wanted Moshe to speak to the rock and let Him do the magic, Moshe would not have messed up and sinned. But, because Moshe perhaps got angered or rash and was active in the wrong context, he sinned. Indeed, the same passivity that he displayed in the negative context of the Cheit HaMiraglim, he failed to maintain when the Will of G-d needed him to at Mei Merivah. Thus, with the two sins together, we see where Moshe can be faulted for even the former sin of the Miraglim.

Now, let’s look at Aharon. He played a major role in the Cheit HaEigel, and as we mentioned, it was an active role. Indeed, had Aharon been a bit more passive at that time, maybe, he would’ve had an alibi. Perhaps he would not have prevented the nation from sinning somehow, but the Golden Calf itself existed because Aharon was active when he should not have been. Fast-forward to Mei Merivah where Aharon did virtually nothing. Yet, now, he is blamed. For what? Perhaps here, Aharon is blamed for his silent involvement, because here, he should’ve actually been more involved. Because when Moshe was getting worked up and needed someone to keep him in line, Aharon perhaps should’ve said something. If Aharon was ready, once upon a time, to get up and feign acts of Avodah Zarah (idolatry) at the scene of the Eigel to protect the people, why not do something here? Try to calm Moshe down. Communicate with him somehow. Don’t just watch your brother mess up. The same active role he played earlier in the context of sin should have been utilized while he was standing idly by as Moshe violated the Will of G-d.

What would emerge from all of this is that Mei Merivah is not just a pretext, but an excellent pretext that, when carefully scrutinized in the larger context with the other sins, brings out the unfortunate but true faults in our righteous heroes.

So, where do we go from here? We’ve just painted an unpleasant picture of two of the greatest human beings in our tradition and history at large. How’s that for a day’s work? So much for trying to cover up for their sins for their honor… But seriously, what do we make of this concept, that indeed, Hashem sought out the honor of Moshe and Aharon even as he judged them for their wrongdoings? Was the cover-up successful? Are we proud of Moshe and Aharon at the end of all of this?

As we’ve alluded, whenever Hashem is speaking about the deaths of Moshe and Aharon, He pins it on Mei Merivah, rather than telling us about the more disgraceful sins they had a role in. However, from what we’ve developed here, Mei Merivah was in some way, a final straw or second chance, a follow-up to their previous sins. The question is: Where did this second chance come from? According to this new model, why was it necessary for Hashem to find a new “pretext” to confirm that Moshe and Aharon were truly guilty and unqualified to enter the Land of Israel? Were the Cheit HaEigel and the Cheit HaMiraglim not sufficient?

Perhaps we could suggest that only true Tzaddikim (righteous individuals) could earn such a second shot, hence a testament to Moshe and Aharon’s righteousness. But, wait! Didn’t they fail? Yes, but, perhaps we could suggest that such was the righteousness of Moshe and Aharon that Hashem had to “catch” them on such a slight misstep to confirm the harsh sentence against them, a further testament to their righteousness. That’s all possible.

However, to take it step even further, perhaps we could also suggest that Hashem would not give Moshe and Aharon the full measure of blame for the Cheit HaMiraglim and the Cheit HaEigel alone, because, as tragic as they were, Hashem knows well that Moshe and Aharon respectively had involvement in those sins for no other reason than the fact that they were always the true heroes of the B’nei Yisrael. When Moshe was not around, Aharon, as portrayed by the Gemara in Sanhedrin [7A], put his spiritual life on the line, yes, by engaging in the Golden Calf, but it was to prevent the nation from having murder on their hands. Was he ultimately wrong or at least blameworthy? Yes, but if not for his undying love and heroic concern for the B’nei Yisrael, Aharon would have been uninvolved and therefore completely unscathed by that sin.

And how about Moshe? Yes, he allowed the Miraglim to engage in the spy mission, but not only did he do so out of what he thought was the best interests of both Hashem and the B’nei Yisrael, but every time push came to shove and the nation was on the brink of utter destruction, whether from the Cheit HaEigel or the Miraglim, who else but Moshe would tirelessly pray for them at his own spiritual expense? If only Moshe cared less, the B’nei Yisrael’s sins would not also be his own.

In the end, it took one itty-bitty little sin extra at Mei Merivah that Hashem signed them off. Yes, Moshe made a mistake at the Cheit HaMiraglim. Aharon made a mistake at the Cheit HaEigel. But, what emerges from the Torah’s perspective and Chazzal’s insight is that before we acknowledge at the fault in our heroes, let’s first acknowledge our heroes.


May we all be Zocheh to, of course, always uphold the Will of Hashem to the best of our abilities, but also do our best to emulate the undying Ahavas Yisrael as displayed by our heroic, spiritual leaders in all generations, and we should merit the arrival of another hero in Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂