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Moshe and Aharon

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion




Summarized by Jeremy Spierer


"THESE ARE THAT AHARON AND MOSHE to whom God said, 'Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.' These are they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: THESE ARE THAT MOSHE AND AHARON." (Shemot 6:26-7)

The commentators address the reversal in the Torah's formulation: in verse 26, the Torah lists Aharon before Moshe, and in verse 27, Moshe before Aharon. Some commentators consider the context of the verses. When the Torah discusses lineage, Aharon, as the older brother, precedes Moshe. (Ibn Ezra also points out that Aharon began prophesying to the Jewish people before Moshe.) On the other hand, when the Torah discusses Moshe and Aharon's mission to speak to Pharaoh, Moshe, as the greater prophet, precedes Aharon.

Rashi (6:26) takes a different approach:

"There are some places where the Torah lists Aharon before Moshe and some places where it lists Moshe before Aharon - to tell us that they were equals."

This approach is extremely difficult. Were Moshe and Aharon really equals? Indeed, the Torah dedicates a section (Bamidbar 12:1-16) specifically to this issue:

"My servant Moshe is not so, for he is the most trusted one in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth..." (verses 7-8).

The Rambam, in addition, establishes the uniqueness of Moshe's prophecy as one of the fundamental tenets of our faith. How can Rashi maintain that Moshe and Aharon were equals? The answer is clear. At this stage in their development, Aharon and Moshe were indeed equals. Moshe had not yet attained his unique level of prophecy. By the end of Moshe's life, though, Moshe had far surpassed his brother.

The gap between Moshe and Aharon - as well as between Moshe and all other prophets - is a qualitative one (see, for example, Rambam Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:6). It is not enough to say that Moshe and Aharon were not equals; there is simply no basis of comparison.

The question, then, begs to be asked. Moshe and Aharon emerged from the same house. At one point, in fact, they were equals. How could their development take such radically different paths?

In the seventh chapter of Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, the Rambam discusses the development of a prophet:

"It is [one of] the foundations of [our] faith that God communicates by prophecy with man.

"Prophecy is bestowed only upon a very wise sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard. Instead, with his mind, he overcomes his natural inclinations at all times. He must [also] possess a broad and correct perspective.

"A person who is full of all these qualities and is physically sound [is fit for prophecy]. When he enters the Pardes and is drawn into these great and sublime concepts, if he possesses a correct perspective to comprehend and grasp [them], he will become holy. He will advance and separate himself from the masses who proceed in the darkness of the time. He must continue and diligently train himself not to have any thoughts whatsoever about fruitless things or the vanities and intrigues of the times.

"Instead, his mind should constantly be directed upward, bound beneath [God's] throne [of Glory, striving] to comprehend the holy and pure forms and gazing at the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, in its entirety, [in its manyfold manifestations] from the most elevated [spiritual] form until the navel of the earth, appreciating His greatness from them...."

To receive prophecy, one must undergo an extended, intensive preparation on many levels - intellectual, moral, etc. However, completing this preparation does not guarantee the prophecy; Hashem CHOOSES his prophets:

"Those that seek to prophesy are called 'children of prophets' (benei nevi'im). But even if they direct their thoughts, it is possible that the Divine presence will rest on them; it is possible that it will not." (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:5)

(Note, for example, the berakha we recite before reading the haftara, "... who CHOSE good prophets...")

For our purposes, let us assume that the element of Divine choice regarding Moshe and Aharon was equal. Where, then, did Moshe distinguish himself? We can isolate two areas:

"Now, therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, show me now Your ways that I may know You..." (Shemot 33:13).

Ostensibly, the level of prophecy Hashem bestows upon a navi parallels the navi's longing and preparation for the prophecy. Moshe distinguishes himself with his intense desire to know Hashem, to understand Him.

Even if we could not determine WHY Moshe received a higher level of prophecy, the Torah records for a fact that he did. It is this level of prophecy that serves as the second source of Moshe's uniqueness.

"...When God's spirit rests on him [the prophet] ... and he is transformed into another person; he understands that he is not as he was before..." (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:1)

After receiving a prophecy, the navi is capable of achieving greater spiritual heights - if he utilizes the opportunity to do so. By receiving a higher level of prophecy one day, Moshe could achieve greater heights the next day.

Today we do not have prophecy, but we have chokhma (wisdom); we do not have benei nevi'im, but we have talmidei chakhamim. (A talmid chakham is not a wise pupil; chakham is not an adjective. Rather, talmid chakham means the student of a wise man.) The benei ha-nevi'im had a clear goal to which they aspired: the receiving of Divine prophecy. Our goals are sometimes less concrete, but we must still formulate them. The degree to which we long for and strive toward understanding Hashem and His Torah will determine our ultimate achievement. Our preparation and investment will determine our success.

As mentioned earlier, there is a second element as well. We are given opportunities to grow in Torah, and we must maximize them. We place ourselves in an atmosphere of Torah and we must take advantage of it.

None of us will ever reach the level of Moshe Rabbeinu; he was a unique figure in history. But nor are we asked to reach that level. We are only asked to realize our individual potentials as ovdei Hashem.

(Originally delivered at Shabbat Va'era, Se'uda Shlishit 5757.)



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