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Parshas Chukas (5775)

The First Marital Therapist in History

Here is a great trivia question for you:

What was the most popular Jewish boy’s name during the forty years that the Jews were travelling through the desert on their way to the Land of Israel?

Many people might say it was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or one of the Twelve Tribes. However, I believe the real answer is Aaron. And I am basing this on a fascinating Midrashic tradition that is recorded in Avos D’Rabbi Nosson (12:4).

There it teaches that at the funeral of Aaron the High Priest (which is described in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Chukas - see Numbers 20:22-29), many thousands of boys named Aaron (some say as many as 80,000!) showed up and marched behind the coffin to pay their last respects to this beloved and saintly Tzaddik (righteous person).

These young men were all named after Aaron the High Priest (even though he was still alive at the time) because had it not been for his hard work, they might never have been born. For it was Aaron the High Priest who served as a “marital therapist” of sorts for all the many couples who were having marital issues and who were experiencing a lack of Shalom Bayis (domestic harmony) in their homes and lives. When the couples came back together in love and harmony as a result of Aaron’s successful intervention, they decided to name their sons Aaron (did they name their daughters Aaronah?) as a sign of their appreciation for the High Priests’ tireless efforts on their behalf.

So now you know why I think that Aaron was the most popular Jewish boy’s name at that time.

If you think about it, it is truly amazing that Aaron was able to give marital therapy on such a large scale during the 40 years that the Jews spent in the desert. After all, Aaron was a busy man! He was the High Priest and in charge of overseeing the Avodah (ritual service – some of which he performed himself - in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and he also had to guide all the Kohanim (priests) under him as well.

Yet as the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (“Ethics of our Fathers”) teaches us (1:12): “Hillel said: Be a student of Aaron (the High Priest) – love peace and pursue peace …”

Rabbeinu Yonah, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, explains that it is simply not enough to “love” peace. Many people say they want peace and harmony in the world, but are not willing to go out there and “pursue” it. That’s what separates the men from the boys. Aaron didn’t just love the “notion” of peace in the abstract. He valued peace so much that he got out there every single day for hours on end and offered free marital therapy to all those who needed it – and apparently many needed it - with concrete results. Aaron was an Oheiv Shalom, a lover of peace, but, more importantly, he was a Rodeif Shalom, a pursuer of peace.

Shalom Bayis and harmony in the home is so important and so crucial for so many reasons. The Talmud teaches us that “Ish v’Ishah, Shalom beineihem, Shechinah beineihem – a husband and wife, when there is peace between them, the Divine Presence is between them”. But when there is strife and discord in the home, G-d forbid, then G-d doesn’t want to be there either.

Many years ago, a rabbi I know shared with me a simple, but profound, piece of marital advice that has stayed with me all these years (although unfortunately I can’t say that I followed it much of the time!) and that I would like to share with all of you.

The advice the rabbi taught me was not something that he came up with on his own. Rather, it comes from Rashi’s commentary to the Talmud in Shabbos 127b. There the Talmud discusses the performance of certain mitzvos (commandments) for which a person gets rewarded both in this world and the next.

The Talmud teaches that two of these mitzvos – judging your friend favorably, and bringing peace between man and his friend (and between husband and wife) – are really one and the same. Rashi explains that if a person can give his friend (or spouse) the benefit of the doubt, and say to himself ‘He isn’t really at fault, he was going through a difficult time (and he didn’t mean to hurt me) – or - He really meant well’ – they are guaranteed to have shalom between them.

The rabbi added that if you think into it deeply, you will see just how true Rashi’s ‘simple’ marital advice is. The fact is that most fights between friends or spouses arise because one of the two (or both) didn’t stop to judge the other favorably at the outset and to give them the benefit of the doubt. If only we would remember to follow Rashi’s tried and true recipe for Shalom Bayis, and to judge the other favorably before the fight begins, what a different world it would be!

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