Rosh hodesh Av and Aharon's Petira (death date)

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

Rosh Chodesh Av is the day Aharon Hakohen passed away. Back in Parshat Chukat we read that "Aharon shall be gathered to his people (an idiom for he shall die), for he shall not come to the land which I [G-d] have given to the children of Israel, because they defied My word at the waters of dispute" (Numbers 20:24).

Why is it significant that Aharon died during the month of Av?

On the seventeenth of Tamuz,  two weeks ago, we fasted to commemorate the day Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls of Jerusalem. From the seventeenth and up till the ninth of Av, a time period called ben hamaitzarim (a religious idiom for being caught between a rock and a hard place), also popularly termed 'the three weeks,' the Babylonians pillaged the streets of the old city. Rosh Chodesh Av marks our entrance into the last nine days of the three weeks. It is a time of intensified restraint from enjoyable activities (for specifics on the laws concerning the nine days click link). On the ninth of AvNebuchanezzar razed the first of our holy temples to the ground.

We suffered this event as punishment for the the three cardinal sins we committed: immorality, murder and idolatry.

Centuries later, on the ninth of Av, we lost the second Temple at the hands of the Romans because of sinas chinam - baseless hatred. The story about a mix-up between the names "Kamtza and Bar Kamtza" illustrates this idea. A Jew in Jerusalem was hosting a party and he wanted to invite his friend Kamtza. Unfortunately, his RSVP accidentally fell into the hands of his mortal enemy Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza received the invite and rejoiced because he thought this Jew wanted to make peace. When Bar Kamtza ventured into his host's gates and seated himself, his smiling eyes met those of his enemy's. The Jew cried out, "You don't belong here. I expect you to leave this instant" and Bar Kamtza's request to fund half the party, even his pleas to pay for the entire affair ("just don't throw me out in front of everyone!") fell on deaf ears. Bar Kamtza left, indignant and vowing revenge. 

Sinas chinam is so terrible that anyone who feels hatred toward another is considered to have sinned on the same level (if not on a worse one) as one who commits the three cardinal sins. This is because baseless hatred rips people apart. The reason Nebuchadnezzar was able to break through the walls of the old city in under three years was due to the inner-fighting and fragmentation among the Jews. One of the splinter groups off at the time was called the biryoni (zealots). Another group called themselves Sicarii. This second sect was notorious for assassinating anyone suspected of being Roman or a Roman sympathizer. The objective of the biyroni and Sicarii was to wrest Jerusalem back from Roman hands. They refused to accept the sages' warning that fighting would result in nothing more than spilt blood. What actually happened? People died, blood flowed throught the streets of Jerusalem like water and on the ninth of Av, our holy temple was burnt to the ground.

Let's return to rosh chodesh and Aharon's yartzeit (day of death). Aharon is the paradigm for chasing peace.  He was so beloved that when the nation caught wind of his death they were wretched with grief. This was the man who rushed to knit broken relationships back together. Yet even the event of Aharon's passing was well timed. Aharon's death occurring at the beginning of such a tragic month is like a ray light being shined down a dark passageway; it is a directive for better living. A clever person once discovered the acronym Elul bo (Elul is coming) in the letters Av. Elul is a time for doing teshuva. The root word of teshuva is shuv - return - return to G-d and His commandments. Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the mashgiach of Mir yeshiva in Europe was often heard saying: Every mitzvah in the Torah is meant to bring one a heightened sense of love for his fellow Jew. If you love your fellow Jews, peaceful resolutions will be paramount.

Once we flip the coin of baseless hatred by turning it into acceptance and love, G-d will accept our request for forgiveness in Elul (September). So we can enter the new year, Rosh Hashanah, with a clean slate. 

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