Parashat Hukat- The Process of Jealousy
Parashat Hukat tells of the death of Aharon, the brother of Moshe Rabbenu and the nation’s beloved Kohen Gadol. Rashi (20:23) comments that there is a direct link between this event and the event which the Torah relates in the immediately preceding section. Just before the story of Aharon’s death, we read that Beneh Yisrael stood at the border of the nation of Edom, and they asked the king of Edom for the right to peacefully pass through his kingdom’s territory. Edom emphatically refused the request, and so Beneh Yisrael were forced to journey along the border of Edom in order to circumvent the territory. Rashi writes that because of their contact with Edom, an evil nation, the level of their conduct was compromised. They were negatively affected by the influence of Edom, and they were thus deemed unworthy of having the great Sadik, Aharon, in their midst. Hence, Aharon’s death was a result of Beneh Yisrael’s encounter with Edom.
How exactly were Beneh Yisrael affected by this encounter, and why were they punished specifically with the loss of Aharon?
These events occurred in the fortieth and final year of Beneh Yisrael’s sojourn through the wilderness. This generation was raised in the wilderness, and from birth or early childhood they lived a miraculous existence, being sustained by the manna which descended from the heavens. Their encounter with Edom marked their first exposure to civilization. For the first time, they saw markets filled with real food – and they were jealous. Indeed, several verses later, we read that Beneh Yisrael complained to Moshe about their conditions, and lamented the fact that they had nothing other than the manna to eat. They had been eating the manna their entire lives, yet only now they complained, because they had just for the first time been exposed to something different. They were content with the manna until they saw Edom enjoying a variety of foods, and suddenly they felt underprivileged.
We might draw a comparison to a high school senior who received his driver’s license and asks his father for a car. His father explains that he cannot afford a new car, but the boy says all he needs is four wheels and an engine; it does not have to be anything lavish. And so the father finds a used car for a good price, and buys it for his son, who is thrilled and thanks his father over and over again. Several weeks later, he sees his friend pull up at school with a luxurious sports car. He runs home after school and asks his father to buy him a sports car.
“What’s wrong with the car I bought you?” the father asks.
“You call that a car?!” the son asks cynically.
Until he saw his friend’s sports car, the boy was thrilled with what he had. But once he saw somebody who had something better, he felt deprived.
Similarly, Beneh Yisrael were content with the manna until they saw what Edom had – and then they became jealous.
This is why they were punished with the loss of Aharon, who represented the extreme opposite of jealousy. When G-d first appeared to Moshe at the burning bush and told him to return to Egypt and assume the mantle of leadership, Moshe refused, noting that his older brother, Aharon, deserved this distinguished position. G-d assured Moshe that Aharon would rejoice upon hearing of Moshe’s appointment as leader. Aharon harbored no feelings of envy whatsoever. Even when his younger brother was given honor and prestige, he felt no jealousy and celebrated his brother’s success. The people failed to learn from Aharon’s inspiring example, and so he was taken from them.
Jealousy can ruin a person’s life. It denies him the ability to feel content, and drives him to undertake drastic measures to obtain something he does not actually need. The way to avoid this destructive emotion is to focus on what we truly need and feel content that our needs are met. The process of jealousy begins when we look around to see what others have, instead of focusing on what we have. Let us learn from the example of Aharon, and feel content with what we have without feeling the need to compete with others, and we will then be able to experience genuine serenity and contentment.