Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Disciples of Aharon: Refining Middos and Avoiding Chilul Hashem
"You shall make garments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for glory (kavod) and splendor" (Shemos 28:2). The outer garments reflect the inner garments that clothe the soul with proper character traits. The artisans made the outer garments, but Moshe made the garments of the soul (kavod; see Tehillim 30:13) by instructing Aharon to perfect his character traits thereby clothing it appropriately (Malbim).
The kohein shall don his fitted shirt (mido) of linen (Vayikra 6:3). Mido refers to middos, character traits which befit a kohein. Indeed, any Torah scholar with stained garments, i.e. improper character, is punished for causing people to hate Torah. A true Torah scholar reverses his garments, i.e. overcomes character flaws by reversing his behavior and going to the opposite extreme, thereby ultimately achieving exemplary character (Shabbos 114a, see Rambam Hilchos Deos 2:2, Gr"a on Mishlei 6:27, 20:23).
"Were it not for the garments of the kohein, Am Yisroel would not survive" (Yoma 72b). This, too, refers to the perfection of our character. An offering can atone for a sinful act, but if one does not correct his character he is doomed to sin again (Akeida, Parshas Tetzaveh). Indeed, the parsha's concluding section, the incense altar, is separated from the other vessels of the mishkan because its fragrance, which cannot be held in one's hands, atones not for the body but for the soul (Kli Yakar 30:1).
Character refinement is an integral part of the teshuva process (Ramam Hilchos Teshuva 7:3). It is a prerequisite for the mastery of Torah. "If there is no proper conduct there is no Torah" (Avos 3:17). "The Torah does nor dwell within one who has not corrected his middos" (Rabbeinu Yonah). "Delve in it [Torah] and delve in it, for everything is included in it ... there is no midda better than it" (Avos 5:26). There is no good character trait that cannot be learned from Torah (Gr"a, Tosfos Yom Tov). Indeed, if there is no Torah there is no proper conduct. By studying the ethical mitzvos in the Torah, one learns middos tovos and derech eretz (Rabbeinu Yonah). This, in turn, enables him to achieve mastery of the Torah.
What character traits are associated with Aharon in the mishkan? Although he was told that Hashem grants him atonement for the golden calf that he made (Rashi Vayikra 9:2), Aharon was still embarrassed and afraid to approach(Rashi 9:7). He attributed the initial lack of the Shechina after the offerings in the mishkan to his own failings, leading to further embarrassment (Rashi 9:23). Moshe responded, why are you embarrassed? This is what you were selected for (Rashi 9:7). Precisely because he acknowledged his error, accepted responsibility for it, and was embarrassed by it was he chosen to serve as the kohein gadol (Ba'al Shem Tov).
The choshen and the urim v'tumim shall be on Aharon's heart (Shemos 28:30). How did Aharon merit this most significant garment? When told that he would be replaced as the leader by his younger brother Moshe, he was not upset as Moshe feared. Rather, he rejoiced in his heart, thereby meriting the choshen on that pure heart, totally untainted by jealousy (Rashi 4:14).
More generally, Hillel says, "be among the disciples of Aharon, [one who] loves peace, pursues peace, loves people and brings then close to Torah" (Avos 1:12). "Seek peace in your place, and pursue it elsewhere" (Avos D'Rabbi Nassan12:6). If two persons were feuding, Aharon told one that the other wanted to reconcile, thereby achieving peace (12:3). It is a mitzvah to change the facts for the sake of peace, a law derived from Hashem Himself (Yevamos 65b, Rashi Breishis 18:13). Such bold initiative in pursuing peace is in a different place (bmakom acher), and ostensibly out of place. Yet it is lauded as imitateo Dei.
Love people (briyos) and all creatures because they were created by Hashem (Tosafos Yom Tov). Even non-Jews or Jews who taunt you must be loved, as Hillel did, because only in that way can you bring them close to Torah (Tiferes Yisroel based on Shabbos 31a). These are some of Aharon's traits. We must all become his students and emulate him and them.
"One who studies Torah, and his business transactions are conducted faithfully, and his manner of speaking with people (briyos) is pleasant, what do people (briyos) say about him? This person who learned Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how refined are his deeds. About him it is said, 'you are My servant Israel, though whom I am glorified'" (Yoma 86a).
The term briyos includes non-Jews as well. We must be especially careful to glorify Hashem's name, by being polite and honest, when our actions are seen and judged by others, Jews and/or non-Jews. The alternative is a desecration of Hashem's name, for which it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve atonement in one's lifetime (ibid, see Meiri).
Unfortunately, some Orthodox individuals and institutions are not sufficiently sensitive to the chilul Hashem that dishonesty can create. In dealing with non-Jews, especially governments, some continue to perform illegal acts, which may have been permissible and unavoidable when dealing with murderous anti-Semitic regimes of the past, but are forbidden and unconscionable in America today.
The decadence of modern society has, appropriately, led many to lead insular lives to protect themselves from sin and immorality. (see Rambam Hilchos Deos 6:1). However, this attitude leads some to dehumanize or devalue non-Jews, and even non-Orthodox Jews, thereby leading to false conclusions that stealing from them is permissible or even, for Torah causes, laudable (Silver Lining of the LA Scandal Cloud, by Rav Yitschok Adlerstein).
"You will be a treasure to Me from among all the people, of all the earth is Mine" (Shemos 19:5), and yet they are in My eyes and before Me as nothing (Rashi). Alternatively, even though all humans are precious to me, beloved because they were created in My image (Avos 3:18), and righteous gentiles are precious to me without a doubt, you are My treasure when you teach all mankind to recognize and serve Me (Seforno).
These two interpretations seem contradictory, and some focus on Rashi only and demean non-Jews, or on the Seforno only and minimize the uniqueness of Torah and Am Yisrael. In truth, both interpretations are valid and crucial. Of all the religions and national entities, the world was created for Torah and Am Yisrael (Rashi, Breishis 1:1, see Nedarim 41a, Yeshayahu 40:17). At the same time, every human being is created in Hashem's image and, as such, has intrinsic value and is precious to Hashem. We must treat every person, Jew and non-Jew, with dignity and honesty. We must be extremely concerned with the impression we make upon them. We must strive to create kiddush Hashem and avoid performing, condoning, or legitimizing acts of chilul Hashem.
The Torah giants who immigrated from the oppressive and murderous regimes of Europe to a democratic and just America recognized the vast difference between the two, and instructed their followers to deal honestly with the American government. The Satmar Rebbe led an insular group of chassidim with a long history of avoiding taxes, customs, and border patrols in Europe. There, he said, it was a mitzvah, but here it was strictly prohibited and not tolerated in his chassidus.
Special care is called for regarding Torah institutions, for two reasons. First, if discovered, the chilul Hashem is greater. Second, some may rationalize that the ends justify the means. Rav Solovietchik ruled that one must close a charitable program rather than keep it opened by illegal means (Rabbi Menachem Genack, Memories of a Giant, p. 169).
Finally, Rav Moshe Feinstein published an authoritative responsum (Choshen Mishpat 2:29) which speaks for itself.
May we all be students of Aharon haKohein and all the great Torah leaders who taught and exemplified honesty and love of all creatures. By clothing our souls with middos tovos, refined character, may we merit the return of the kohein's garments and the Beis Hamikdash.