Yesterday, we saw the tragic story told in the Midrash, which Rashi cites in his commentary to Parashat Eikev (10:7-8), of the events that transpired after Aharon’s death. Chazal teach that the miraculous “clouds of glory,” which surrounded Benei Yisrael as they traveled through the wilderness and guaranteed their protection, were provided in Aharon’s merit. Therefore, they disappeared after his passing. Benei Yisrael then felt vulnerable, especially as they were passing near the hostile Canaanite tribe in the Arad region. The nation fled in fear, retreating backwards in the direction of Egypt. The tribe of Levi – the same tribe which, nearly forty years earlier, opposed the worship of the golden calf – opposed the move, and pursued the other tribes, resulting in a deadly civil war.
Symbolically, this story teaches of the human tendency to grow to feel dependent upon certain conditions which afford us a feeling of security and protection. Just as Benei Yisrael felt fragile and vulnerable upon the loss of the miraculous clouds, people, too, naturally feel fragile and vulnerable after the loss of somebody or something which made them feel secure, such as a beloved family member, a job, a piece of property or some other important asset. However, while this feeling is perfectly normal and understandable, Benei Yisrael’s retreat serves as an example that we must try not to follow. We must never break down in the face of uncertainty and vulnerability and resort to drastic, reckless measures. Just as Benei Yisrael were wrong to resort to idolatry (the golden calf) when Moshe did not return from atop Mount Sinai at the time they anticipated, and should not have begun heading back to Egypt when the clouds of glory disappeared, we, too, must not despair when we lose somebody or something that has been important to us. Instead, we must follow the example set by the tribe of Levi, who retained their faith and trusted in God’s ability to care for them in the absence of their leader and without the means of protection to which they had grown accustomed.
In Sefer Bereishit (32:1), we read that as Yaakov made his way back to Canaan after his long stay in Charan, he was greeted by a group of angels. Immediately thereafter (32:33), the Torah tells, “Yaakov sent angels ahead of him” to deliver a message of reconciliation to Esav. The Rebbe of Kotzk interpreted this verse to mean that Yaakov “sent the angels away.” He did not want the angels to protect him, the Rebbe explained, as he trusted in the direct care and protection of the Almighty. The message being conveyed is that we should try to avoid becoming overly attached to, and dependent upon, the various “angels” which come into our lives to help us. We must be prepared at times to let go of an “angel,” a feature of our lives which has provided us with a livelihood, with fulfillment, with happiness, or with anything else we need or desire, and trust that our needs and wishes can be fulfilled through other means. As vulnerable and insecure as we might feel upon the loss of our “clouds of glory,” we must follow Levi’s example of steadfast faith and trust in the Almighty, rather than break down and fall into depression and despair.