“Strip Aaron of his vestments and put them on his son Eleazar. There Aaron shall be gathered unto the dead” Numbers 20:26
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Aaron has, arguably, the most formal and visible death scene in the Bible. He is taken by Moses to the top of Mount Hor with his son, Eleazar, in the presence “of the whole community”. He died on the mountain’s summit.
The public nature of his death is emphasised another two times: “the whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last”, “All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days” (Numbers 20:29).
The midrashic portrait is equally compelling. Aaron goes peacefully into eternal slumber as the removal of the clothing that signified his very public leadership literally takes his breath away.
Aaron’s death, in both the biblical text and the midrashic commentary, matched his life. He was chosen as a leader because he could speak publicly where his brother could not. His job involved public, visible service. His distinctive uniform for the role of high priest was made with sacred intention and worn to model for others the majesty of divine service.
In Aaron’s lifetime, he stalled the Israelites during the golden calf incident. His disciples in Ethics of the Fathers are regarded as lovers of peace and pursuers of peace. His death is without conflict.
Compare this to Moses, who asked repeatedly for entrance into the land of Israel in the Bible and for his life to be spared in the Midrash. Moses was a fighter in life and a fighter in death. Aaron was a very visible peacemaker in life and died visibly and publicly in death.
In real life, death is more of a messy business. But the sidrah challenges us as readers to imagine what our own deaths would look like if they mimicked our lives.