“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: May God bless you and keep you; May God make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; May God Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:23-27)
Visiting holy sites and the burial places of Biblical figures is one important reason to come to Israel. The burial place for Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first High Priest is, ironically, one of the few Biblically holy sites located outside of Israel. Nonetheless, it is certainly worthy of a visit, as a group of Israelis recently did.
Aaron was the only character whose death was given a date explicitly in the Bible (Numbers 33:38) – the first day of the month of Av. This year, on the anniversary of Aaron the Priest’s death, a group of Israelis decided to honor him by trekking to his gravesite, praying with deep devotion in his merit.
Though his burial place is named in the Bible as Mount Hor (Numbers 20:22-28), there are two traditions as to where Aaron is buried. There is a mountain in the Sinai called Mount Hor, which is near a mountain called Mount Sinai. Different opinions abound regarding the accuracy of the names of both of those mountains. There is also a mountain in Jordan which the Muslims believe to be the burial place of Aaron. Although it’s not clear which of these opinions is correct, an event connected to Aaron recently took place at the mountain in Jordan called Jabal Harun (Aaron’s Mountain).
Jabal Harun is located near the remarkable archaeological site of Petra. Aaron, like many other figures in the Hebrew Bible, was mentioned many times in the Koran and revered by Islam. As such, in the 14th century, a mosque was built on the site they believed to be his burial place. Sitting atop the highest peak in the region at 1350 meters, almost 4,500 feet, the white dome of the mosque is visible for miles around. It should be noted that were it not for the mosques and the Muslims preserving the sites, many sites holy to Judaism would have been lost during the 2,000 year Diaspora.
In past years, similar visits were disallowed because authorities feared it would lead to a negative reaction by the locals. As noted above, Aaron’s burial site is also holy to the Muslims and there is a mosque on the site. At one point, visits by Israelis were allowed, but that practice was discontinued after it was discovered that they had disfigured the site, writing graffiti on the walls in Hebrew.
This year, the Jordanian authorities permitted a large group of about 50 Israelis to travel to the site in a pilgrimage organized by HaTzaddikim Chaim Tours (The Holy Men are Alive Tours), led by Rabbi Razael Ohana, and in cooperation with the Ohev Shalom (Lovers of Peace) organization. The preparations were no simple matter and required going through the Israeli Embassy in Jordan, the Israeli Defense Ministry, the Israeli and Jordanian Ministries of the Interior, and the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism.
The group arrived one day before the actual anniversary of the death of Aaron because the first Day of Av fell on a Friday this year. Arriving on that day would have meant staying in Jordan an additional two days since it is forbidden to travel on the Sabbath.
The pilgrimage crossed the border at the The Wadi Araba Border Crossing, which connects between Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan. From there, they traveled by minibus, escorted by Jordanian police. The police, from the Petra Division were by their side during the entire visit. At one point, they had to change to four-wheel drive jeeps to climb the rocky trail.
At the site, they recited Psalms and Kaddish (the prayer for the dead). The highlight of the pilgrimage was when the Kohanim present in the group, those of the priestly class, performed the ritual blessing, as described in Numbers 6:23-27.
Aaron holds a special place in the heart of the Jewish people. His lineage is preserved to this day as a priestly class, and the priestly blessing is preserved as a powerful reminder of the Temple service.
When Aaron passed away, the entire house of Israel wept, including the women (Numbers 20:29), unlike Moses who was mourned only by “the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:8). Aaron may not have been as close to God as his brother, but he was much closer to the people, a necessary trait for him to be the conduit for the prayers and offerings of Israel, and for him and his descendants to bless the nation. It is also ironic that the burial place of Moses, who is such a central character for the Jews, is unknown.