In this week’s Parsha we find two seemingly unconnected events written immediately after the other. The first event is the death of Aharon. Immediately after the death of Aharon, the Torah writes that the “Canaani, the king of Arad heard.” According to Rashi, this Canaani was Amalek and they attacked the Jewish people.
The events of the Torah are not arranged randomly. There are connections between the sections. What is the connection between the death of Aharon and the war with Amalek that immediately follows?
Rashi explains that Amalek heard that Aharon had died. In Aharon’s merit the Clouds of Glory surrounded the Jewish people in the desert. Now that he died, the clouds were gone and Amalek figured that the Jewish people were vulnerable to attack. Amalek had success in the beginning. They captured a prisoner. However, the Jewish people davened to G-d, the tide turned and they defeated Amalek once again.
The Torah is a book written by G-d about people. The recorded stories provide eternal lessons for mankind. One of the lessons that the Torah teaches us is the protection that the merit of a righteous person provides for a city, country, nation or the entire world. G-d surrounded the Jewish people with clouds in the desert. These clouds protected the Jewish people from the heat of day and cold of night. The clouds preserved their shoes and their clothes. For almost 40 years, they had a constant dry-cleaning service and shoe repair from G-d. However, the clouds were only there as long as Aharon lived. Only in his merit did G-d provide the Jews with this constant protection. Once Aharon was gone, that protection went with him.
We find this idea in several places throughout the Tanach, Talmud and, may I also say, our times. It seems quite clear from the Chumash that the city of Sodom would have been spared had ten righteous people dwelled in the city. Their merit alone would have safeguarded even a city as evil as Sodom.
When Ya’akov left the Land of Canaan for Haran, the Torah makes note of it. In the words of Rashi, “when a righteous person leaves a place, its glory and splendor leave with him.” When Ya’akov came to Egypt, the famine stopped in his merit.
When Moshe sent the twelve men to investigate the Land of Canaan, he told them to see if there is a “tree” in the land. Rashi explains that Moshe was referring to a righteous person. “Is the righteous person Job in the country in whose merit G-d protects the country? If so, you won’t be able to conquer it.”
Shortly before the Babylonians destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash, the Prophet Yirmiyahu received a prophecy from G-d to leave Jerusalem to take care of a particular matter. Once Yirmiyahu left Jerusalem, the Babylonians entered, destroyed the city and the Bais Hamikdash. The prophet Yirmiyahu did not have any weapons or an army in his charge. Yet, as long as he remained in Jerusalem, the Babylonians could not conquer the city. His merit was more powerful than the invading army.
The Talmud teaches us that Rabbi Dosa said, “The whole world is sustained on account of my son Chanina.” In other words, Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa was so great, that in his merit G-d provided food for everybody.
The Torah informs us that every time a rainbow appears, G-d wants to destroy the world. However, He remembers His promise to Noah and spares us even though we do deserve to be destroyed. The Talmud teaches us that during the generations of King Hezkiyahu and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi, not a single rainbow appeared in the sky because of their righteousness.
Although it is impossible to read G-d’s mind, perhaps there is also an example from our time. The Chafetz Chaim is buried in Radun. There were attempts to move his body to Israel. However, the Polish people wouldn’t allow it. During World War II, there was very little damage to the town of Radun. The Polish people felt they were protected in the merit of the remains of the Chafetz Chaim. (That did not stop the Poles from assisting in the destruction of the Jewish community there. Somehow, they did not see it as a contradiction.)
One must not underestimate the power of the righteous nor minimize their contributions to society. As individuals, we ourselves can help the Jewish people by emulating righteous Torah values to the best of our abilities. Not everybody can be a sage, but we can all do our best to exhibit sagely behavior. In the merit of the righteous of our times, may we once again be blessed to experience the peace of mind of G-d’s all-powerful protection.