How could Moshe tear his clothing over the death of Aharon?
(33,38) “And Aharon the Kohen ascended Mount Hor by Hashem’s behest and died there, in the fortieth year of the exodus of the Children of Yisrael from the land of Egypt, in the fifth month, on the first day of the month.”
It says in parshas Chukas concerning the death of Aharon on Mount Hor “And all the congregation saw that Aharon had died, and they wept for Aharon for thirty days, all the house of Yisrael” (Bamibar 20:29). The Targum Yonason (Aramaic translation/explanation of Yonason) writes there “and since Aharon was dead the clouds of glory were removed, on the first of the month of Av. And all the congregation saw that Moshe had come down from the mountain with torn clothing and that he was crying and saying: Woe is to me because of you, my brother, the pillar of prayer of Yisrael. Also they wept for Aharon for thirty days, the men and women of Yisrael”.
There are several questions which can be asked on this Targum. Firstly, since it says explicitly in our parsha that he died on the first of Av, what is the purpose of repeating this information there? Secondly, what is he teaching us by stating that his clothing was torn? And thirdly, what problem is he solving by stating that Moshe cried for Aharon, the pillar of prayer of Yisrael?
The answer to these questions starts with a problem I noticed a long time ago with the teaching of R. Shimon ben Gamliel in Bava Basra 121a that Yisrael had no festive days which could compare to the fifteenth of Av, and R. Dimi bar Yosef in the name of R. Nachman explained that this was because it was the day on which the dying in the wilderness ceased. And Mar taught that until the dying ceased there was no direct Divine communication with Moshe, as it says in Devarim 2:16 “And it was when all the men of military age finished dying from amongst the people”, and the next posuk says “And Hashem spoke to me, saying” - only then was there direct communication with Moshe. And Rashi explained in his commentary on that posuk that during all the thirty-eight years that Yisrael were in a state of disgrace with Hashem, from the time of the sending of the spies until then, Hashem did not speak directly with Moshe.
And it is clear from Tosafos there in Bava Basra that also in the last year some of them died and they then knew that the decree had been completed, because all those who had been twenty years old at the time of the sending of the spies had now died. And because they were in mourning until part of the day of the fifteenth Hashem did not speak directly to Moshe until then because the Divine Presence does not dwell on a person when he is sad, like we find with Ya'akov - that during all the years that he was mourning for Yosef, the Divine Presence did not dwell on him. Therefore, whilst Yisrael were mourning direct communication did not return, because it was in their merit that Hahsem spoke directly with Moshe as is taught in the beginning of the Mechilta.
But there is a problem with this from the gemora in Kiddushin 38a which teaches that Moshe died on the 7th of Adar, and Tosafos writes there that on the 7th of Nisan the thirty days of mourning for Moshe finished, and on the next day, the eighth, Hashem spoke to Yehoshua. But before this Hashem did not speak with him because the Divine Presence does not dwell on a person when he is sad. If so, how could the gemora in Bava Basra say that on the 15th of Av Hashem spoke to Moshe? Since on the first of Av Aharon died and all of the House of Yisrael wept for him for thirty days, why did Hashem speak to Moshe at that time?
However, we can answer this problem from the gemora in Moed Katan 14b, which asks if a metzora (one who is afflicted with a certain skin blemish) deports himself as a metzora during a festival. Rava answered that we learn from the Torah that even a Kohen Gadol is included in the laws of a metzora. And since the Mishnah in Horiyos teaches that a Kohen Gadol can offer sacrifices even whilst he is an onein (one who is in the first day of mourning) any time of the year, but anyone else who is an onein can only do so on a festival, we see that for a Kohen Gadol the whole year is like a festival. From this we can learn that a metzora deports himself as a metzora during a festival.
What we learn from this gemora is that a Kohen Gadol is not the same as the rest of the people with regard to mourning. And we find in the gemora in Zevachim 101b that Rav taught that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Kohen Gadol. If so, this would explain why Hashem spoke with him during those thirty days. But this raises a new problem - if Moshe was a Kohen Gadol he would not have been permitted to tear his clothing for a dead person, as it teaches explicitly in the Torah. So how could the Targum say that his clothing was torn?
However, we can answer this problem from what I said in a eulogy many years ago about that which is taught in the Midrash Eichah and also in the gemora Yerushalmi, that the death of Tzaddikim is more difficult for Hashem than the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The Midrash concludes by asking: And why so much? “Because the wisdom of the sages shall be lost and the understanding of the men of understanding shall be hidden” (Yeshayohu 29:14).
I pointed out that this statement that “the death of Tzaddikim is more difficult for Hashem than the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash” is problematic, because it seems that Hashem was harsher concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash than the death of Tzaddikim, because it says in Yeshayohu 22:12 “And Hashem, the G-d of Hosts, called on that day for weeping and for lamentation and for making of bald patches and for girding with sackcloth”, but making a bald patch as a gesture for the dead, even for a Tzaddik, is forbidden.
But the gemora in Sanhedrin 68a teaches that when R. Eliezer died R. Akiva beat his flesh until his blood flowed upon the earth, and Tosafos explained that this was not forbidden because of the Torah's prohibition in Vayikra 19:28 “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead”, but that prohibition is only if one does it for the dead person, but R. Akiva did it because of the loss of Torah which resulted from R. Eliezer’s death. From this we can say also that it is permitted to make bald patches for the death of a Tzaddik if it is done for the loss of Torah.
This is what the Midrash meant when it asked “why so much?” - how can the death of Tzaddikim be more difficult than the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, when for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash Hashem said to make bald patches, and this cannot be done for the death of Tzaddikim? In what way can the mourning for the death of Tzaddikim be as difficult as the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? And it answered that even for the death of a Tzaddik it is possible to make a bald patch, but not for the dead person himself but because of the loss of the wisdom of a sage. This is what I explained in my younger years.
It emerges from this that even things which the Torah forbids us to do for the dead person himself, they are permitted to do for the good things that were found in that person when he was alive and that are lacking now that he is dead. Accordingly, it is no longer problematic how Moshe could descend from the mountain with his clothing torn for the death of Aharon even though Moshe was a Kohen Gadol, because we can explain that it is only forbidden for a Kohen Gadol to tear his clothing for the dead person himself, but Moshe did it for the loss of the good caused by the death of Aharon, because he was the pillar of prayer which the House of Yisrael leaned upon, and because of the clouds of glory which surrounded the camp in his merit and which were removed when he died. For the loss of all this good Moshe was permitted to to tear his clothing according to the law even though he was a Kohen Gadol.
And since he was a Kohen Gadol we understand why Hashem spoke with him during the thirty days of mourning for Aharon, because a Kohen Gadol does not have to mourn for thirty days since the whole year is like a festival for him. However, this leaves us with one final problem - the posuk says “and they wept for him for thirty days, all the House of Yisrael”, and the word 'all' would seem to imply that also Moshe mourned for thirty days. But according to what I have explained this was not so.
For this reason the Targum concludes “Also they wept for Aharon for thirty days, the men and women of Yisrael”, to teach us that the word 'all' comes to include the women and not Moshe, because he was a Kohen Gadol. Thus, all the words of the Targum now make perfect sense!