And the Lord said to Aaron: "You and your sons and ancestral house under your charge shall bear any guilt connected with the sanctuary; you and your sons shall alone bear any guilt associated with your priesthood."
"The world exists on account of people who are able to restrain themselves during a quarrel."
"Korach and his followers were not able to do that, so the earth gave way and swallowed them up."
Can this rare instance of God speaking directly to Aaron be considered a reward for Aaron's behavior in the previous chapter? Or is intended to strengthen and comfort him after the challenge to his authority? Is the list of priestly prerogatives given here to emphasize the special role of the Aaronhide priesthood after Korach's rebellion?
The comment in the Etz Hayim chumash indicates that sometimes after being the recipient of a personal attack, we need the support of those around us. We may believe ourselves to be correct, but in the face of a challenge, we might permit the insecurity that everyone feels to be further exacerbated by the confrontation.
When we are tested by those around us, we need to be supported as well.
Moses and Aaron's leadership is questioned by Korach, and they rise to the challenge. This verse may be interpreted to be God's seal of approval for the skill utilized to overcome this difficulty. It is fascinating to me that in the story of the death of the two sons of Aaron in the horrible tragedy in the tabernacle, there is no dialogue between God and Aaron.
The silence of God is only paralleled by the silence of Aaron. It is deafening. But that's because there is nothing that can be said. With the unnatural death of children, there are no words. But now a conversation can begin.
Much later, the Torah seems to suggest that at some point, Aaron and God have to talk to each other. And the content of that conversation is what we find here.
Essentially, God says to Aaron, "You handled the rebellion well. You didn't take your anger out on Korach, although you had every right to. You know how to handle your position, you take your responsibility seriously, you can be trusted."
God commends Aaron for the way he dealt with Korach, but he might also be referring to how he handled the death of his two sons.
Timing Is Everything
Sometimes, we must learn to be quiet; sometimes, we must begin the conversation. Sometimes, we must come to our own defense; sometimes, the lies perpetuated about us will simply go away on their own. It's all in the timing.
Moses and Aaron — two very public figures — recognize that they will often be the targets of angry attacks. This week's Torah portion commends them for knowing when and how to respond.
We have seen public figures melt down in the face of public attack, and we have seen some that choose not to respond at all. How they choose to respond can be an indication of the support they feel from their friends and family, but ultimately, it's a reflection on their character.
Once again, Moses and Aaron teach us great lessons about leadership, and the power of language both in its execution and in its absence.
Rabbi Jay Stein is the senior rabi of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.