In Parshat Korach, we witnessed a situation where the Jewish people accused Moshe and Aaron of causing the death of the 250 leaders of the Sanhedrin. Furthermore, Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. The Jewish people condemned Moshe and Aaron, claiming they were responsible for the deaths. Subsequently, a divine wrath was unleashed, and a plague broke out.
As soon as the plague began, Moshe instructed Aaron to take the Ketoret, the incense offering, and use it to halt the epidemic.Rashi, drawing from the Midrash and the Gemara, reveals that the angel of death had previously disclosed this secret to Moshe Rabbeinu during his ascent to receive the Torah. The angel of death decided to grant Moshe Rabbeinu a gift, the knowledge that the incense offering could stop a plague. Armed with this knowledge, Moshe instructed Aaron to swiftly intervene and halt the plague.
Upon encountering Aaron and witnessing the effectiveness of the Ketoret in impeding his task, the angel of death engaged in a debate with Aaron. The angel insisted that Aaron step aside, as he was the agent of Hashem sent to execute the plague upon the Jewish people. Aaron, however, countered by asserting that he acted solely on Moshe Rabbeinu’s instructions, which emanated from Hashem Himself.
To settle the matter, Aaron proposed that they visit the tent of assembly, where Moshe and Hashem were present. In this manner, Aaron confronted the angel of death and successfully halted his destructive mission.
Transitioning to Parshat Chukat, which discusses Aaron’s passing, Rashi once again draws from the Midrash, which describes the ascent of Moshe Rabbeinu, Aaron, and his son Elazar to Mount Hor, where Aaron was destined to pass away.
Rashi provides detailed accounts, explaining that a prepared cave awaited Aaron, complete with a bed and a lit candle. Aaron disrobed from his high priestly garments, which he then placed upon his son Elazar. In this way, Aaron witnessed the coronation of his son as the high priest, Kohen Gadol, during his own lifetime. Aaron then reclined and followed Moshe’s instructions to close his eyes and mouth, resulting in his peaceful passing.
Moshe Rabbeinu and Elazar descended from the mountain, leaving Aaron behind. Upon observing that only Moshe and Elazar returned, the Jewish people, as recorded in the Midrash, questioned the whereabouts of Aaron. Moshe and Elazar informed them of his passing.
Strikingly, the Jewish people expressed disbelief that someone who had boldly stood against the angel of death, interceding on behalf of the living and preventing further plague, could himself be overcome by the angel of death!
The Midrash further describes the astonishing reaction of the Jewish people, who even threatened Moshe’s life unless he provided clear proof of Aaron’s demise. In response to their passionate connection and love for Aaron, Hashem allowed the angels to open the cave, causing Aaron’s body to appear before the Jewish people.
This extraordinary incident serves as a testament to the exceptional adoration that the Jewish people held for Aaron, surpassing even their love for Moshe Rabbeinu.
The Jewish people mourned Aaron’s passing more than that of Moshe Rabbeinu. Rashi also explains this, stating that Aaron was highly regarded for his role in promoting peace. He actively worked to resolve conflicts between individuals and within marriages. Aaron’s ability to bring about peace stemmed from his capacity to empathize with each person and lower himself to their level.
In fact, Pirkey Avot advises us to emulate the students of Aaron, who love peace and actively pursue it, going so far as to bring people closer to Torah performance..
Because of his dedication to peace, the Jewish people held Aaron in even higher esteem than Moshe Rabbeinu, who, as a Tzaddik, was concealed and connected to the hidden realm known as Keter. While the teachings of Moshe Rabbeinu were revealed and applicable to all, it was Aaron who actively employed these teachings to guide the people and bring them back to Hashem. He acted as the messenger for this important task.
The quality of seeking peace and establishing harmony among the Jewish people was Aaron’s defining characteristic. This quality is also reflected in the concept of the Ketoret. The term Ketoret is derived from the Aramaic word “Katar” (קטר), which means connection (קשר).
Thus, Aaron was capable of using the Ketoret to stop the plague “because” of his qualities of promoting peace, connection, and balance among people.
Because of Aaron’s dedication to peace, the Jewish people held him in even higher esteem than Moshe Rabbeinu!
The Ketoret represents the power to delve into the depths, confronting and neutralizing the forces of evil, and then elevating the holy sparks trapped therein.
In Likutey Moharan lesson 24, Rebbe Nachman elaborates on this concept: The Ketoret, with its eleven fragrances corresponding to the ten Sefirot and the additional super-Sefirah of Keter, connects to the realm of evil and eradicates it, extracting the holy sparks trapped within.
Today, the recitation of the Ketoret in prayers serves a similar purpose, symbolically entering the domain of evil, eliminating negative forces, and extracting holy sparks.
Aaron’s deep affinity for helping people escape from their entrapments by understanding their perspectives, whether it be resolving conflicts between husbands and wives or fostering peace between friends, is likened to the effect of the Ketoret.
Due to Aaron’s remarkable qualities, the Jewish people found it difficult to accept his passing. They believed that since the Ketoret has the power to stop the angel of death, Aaron, so closely connected to it, should have been exempt from the angel of death’s rule.
(Rav Chaim Vital explains that Aaron’s passing was not at the hands of the angel of death but rather the angel Gabriel, who is the one responsible for taking the souls of those who pass away in the Holy Land – Hor HaHar being an extension of the Holy Land.)
Aaron’s unwavering commitment to peace and his profound ability to connect with people on a personal level made him comparable to the Ketoret in the eyes of the Jewish people. His passing left an indelible impact, highlighting his unique qualities and his lifelong dedication to unity and harmony among the Jewish nation.
Rav Yonatan Eibschitz, in his Torah commentary called “Tiferet Yonatan”, presents a surprising idea: Even the Ketoret has its limitations! We can observe this limitation at the end of Parshat Balak:
In Parshat Balak, we encounter the account of Zimri ben Salu engaging in immoral relations with Kozbi Bat Tsur, a Midianite woman.
This act led to 24,000 Jewish people falling into forbidden sexual relationships with the Midianites. As a consequence, another plague befell the Israelites, resulting in the death of 24,000 individuals.
The Tiferet Yonatan raises an important question: Why didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu instruct the use of the Ketoret in this instance? After all, we witnessed the Ketoret’s ability to halt the angel of death and stop a plague in Parshat Korach.
The Ketoret successfully prevented further harm. So why didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu employ the Ketoret in the incident with the Midianite women to halt the plague?
The Tiferet Yonatan suggests that we can observe a limitation to the power of the Ketoret from this incident. While the Ketoret can aid as long as there is a connection, there is one area where it cannot help—sexual immorality.
Why is that the case?
When a person engages in forbidden relations, such as the Jewish people with the Midianite women, it causes a complete separation, a Hafrada. As a result, all the holy sparks due to this blemish become trapped in the domain of evil. There is no longer any means of connection to extract them..
To explain: the 11 fragrances of the Ketoret correspond to the eleven sefirot that are all interconnected, including the lowest sefirah of Malkhut which descends into the realm of evil, and must be extracted from there. This is what the Ketoret offering/recitation does.
However, sexual immorality completely severs the connection, rendering the Ketoret ineffective.
Thus, the Ketoret can assist a person in any area of life, as Rebbe Nachman emphasizes in Lesson 24, where the power of the Ketoret provides a boost of joy, enabling individuals to fulfill the mitzvot with joy, thus elevating him (and the mitzvah) from the realm of evil and impurity.
It helps uplift someone who is sad or depressed, preventing them from descending further. The Ketoret brings joy to the heart, allowing individuals to extricate themselves from a difficult situation. However, if it is a sexual blemish (as in the case of the Midianite women), the Ketoret cannot help a person, since the connection has been severed.
Where the Ketoret can no longer offer help, the Tikkun HaKlali becomes effective
Considering all this, we can now appreciate the significance and power of Rebbe Nachman’s “Tikkun HaKlali” – the General Remedy.
In a way, It aligns with the ideology behind the Ketoret:
The Ketoret activates the 11 Sefirot, enters the domain of evil, destroys the negative forces, and extracts the trapped holy sparks therein.
So too the Tikkun HaKlali activates the ten types of melody found in the book of Psalms, and these melodies confront the evil force known as Lamed Yud Lamed Yud Tav (commonly referred to as Lilith), dismantling her strength and liberating the holy sparks of wasted seed trapped within her domain.
To explain: The Tikkun HaKlali, similar to the 10 (+1) sefirot correlation of the Ketoret, consists of ten types of melodies that were used by King David and other righteous individuals to compose the Book of Psalms.
Each psalm carries a unique melody, indicating their origin from a high spiritual level. These ten specific chapters, known as the Tikkun HaKlali, originate from the world of Nigun (melody), rooted in the highest level of Atzilut, and even beyond.
One might wonder why Rebbe Nachman revealed the Tikkun HaKlali if the Ketoret seemingly accomplishes the same task?
After all, the Ketoret enters the domain of evil, eliminates evil forces, and extracts holy sparks, which is precisely what the Tikkun HaKlali aims to do. So, what distinguishes them?
The difference becomes apparent when we consider Rabbi Yonatan’s insight: the Ketoret has a limitation—it cannot address sexual immorality. Thus, when faced with sexual transgressions, the Ketoret cannot provide assistance.
However, where the Ketoret can no longer offer help, the Tikkun HaKlali becomes effective.
May we merit to be constantly connected to both the Ketoret and Tikkun HaKlali, bringing us to true joy and rectification in life.