Aharon and the Rewards of Sincere Humility

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There is no perfect leader. Leadership is not a single skill but a collection of talents. Some leaders have the ability to best guide the community in one set of circumstances while others are more capable in different times. The difficulty is knowing when a perfect leader is simply unfit for the occasion.

In this series
* 1: Drasha 1: Communities, Combination and Creation
* 2: Drasha 1: What Science Doesn’t Know
* 3: Drasha 1: What’s the Best Way to Physical Health?
* 4: Drasha 2: The Permanent Friction Between Esav and Yaakov
* 5: Drasha 2: Changing the World with Evocative Acts
* 6: Drasha 2: Predicting and Locking In the Future
* 7: Drasha 3: Moshe’s Speech Defect and the Dangers of Demagoguery
* 8: Drasha 3: Aharon and the Rewards of Sincere Humility
* 9: Drasha 3: Embracing the Metaphysics in the First Mitzvot of the Torah

Last time we focused on Moshe’s speech defect, which came up as an aside to the third Drasha’s real question, why Aharon makes it into being an addressee of the first commandment? The Torah was given to Moshe, in general and in detail; why include Aharon here?

Ran’s first answer is that they both played a role in the redemption, Aharon doing the speaking as well as being the agent of several of the plagues. These commandments are going to be the final step of that redemption, so he deserved to be part of it.

He was involved at all, we should remember, because Moshe Rabbenu resisted being the messenger, arguing he wasn’t worthy and had a speech defect. Moshe also refused to accept Hashem’s assurances that Hashem would take care of that. According to R. Shimon b. Yochai (Zevachim 102a) Moshe’s refusal led to Aharon’s being given the High Priesthood.

Aharons Heart

Hashem tells Moshe that Aharon will rejoice in his heart on hearing that his brother had been selected to lead the Jews out of Egypt. This is remarkable because Aharon was not only older, he had already been serving as a prophet (as Shemot Rabbah, Parshat Shemot, 3:16 has it, based on Hashem’s later words to Eli, the High Priest who raised the prophet Shmuel, as well as verses in Yehezkel 20). He easily could have felt slighted or passed over, but instead is happy for his brother.

This image alone is a first challenge for the rest of us. Aharon’s humility was such that not only did he have no ego about losing out to his kid brother, Hashem’s implied rejection didn’t bother him either. Aharon was the one who had stayed with the Jewish people in Egypt—while Moshe was away, for decades– trying to stop them from getting caught up in Egypt’s abominations. Now he is shunted aside for Moshe. [Consider, in a contrast Ran does not draw, how Kayin reacted to Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted instead of his].

Perhaps I am revealing too much about my own flaws, but I could easily imagine mixed feelings. Assume true brotherly love, unsullied by jealousy or rivalry: wouldn’t being found unworthy still hurt a bit? Especially since Aharon had until now been filling this exact role for the slave nation, it would also not have been immediately obvious that the two brothers simply had different strengths, and Hashem was channeling them to their place of best success.

Sure, the answer probably is that they had different talents, and that Moshe’s were more suited for leading the people out of Egypt, and a mature person would eventually realize that and accept it, and come to love the better fit. With Aharon, it was instantaneous—the moment he sees Moshe, he’ll be wholly, sincerely happy.

Reward That Fits the Act

Ran notes Shabbat 139a’s assertion that Aharon was rewarded for his heartfelt happiness with the right to wear the Choshen Mishpat, the priestly breastplate, on his heart. Ran wonders why the Gemara singled out this garment; why not see one of his seven other High Priestly garments as the reward?

The first part of his answer reminds us of a Talmudic principle that, sadly, many committed Jews today deny. Rewards and punishments in this world are administered middah ke-negged middah, commensurate to what led to them. This is on purpose, Ran says, because Hashem wanted people to notice the Divine Providence in these occurrences. If reward didn’t directly reflect the original good deed, or punishment the wrongful act, people could see it as coincidence or nature, not Hashem’s reaction to this person’s merits or crimes.

Replacing Lost Prophecy

Chazal’s point with Aharon, then, was that the Choshen, which sits over his heart, was a reward for what happened in his heart, welcoming his brother. Why the Choshen? Because, says Ran, aside from its role in the High Priest’s uniform, the Urim ve-Tumim in the Choshen provided kings a way to know the future. (Ran reasons circularly here—he doesn’t prove the Gemara means the Urim ve-Tumim when it refers to Aharon earning the Choshen on his heart, he assumes it, and then explains it based on their predicting the future).

Having lost his prophetic function to his brother, his sincere joy in the better result ended with him being given a permanent quasi-prophetic role. There’s nothing priestly about reading the Urim ve-Tumim, so it was a function that could have been delegated elsewhere. Aharon earned this because his heart was truly attuned to the right and best person for the Jewish people. As a result, he and his descendants wore the future on their heart.

Not only that, Ran says, his form of prophecy was institutionalized, bequeathed from High Priest to High Priest. Even more, Yoma 73b tells us that the predictions of the Urim ve-Tumim were certain to come true. As we’ve seen, a prophet’s assertions could be changed by later events (like Yonah at Nineveh); that was not true of the Urim ve-Tumim’s answers to the questions proposed to it.

Seeing Hashem Now and in the Future

This small piece of Ran’s discussion confronts us with what seem to me two relevant points to ponder and apply to how we live today. First, what would be our attitude should someone better or more apt take over our roles, leaving us unclear, in the interim, on what we’re going to do? Part of the problem, of course, is that we today almost never know that that’s what Hashem wanted—it might be that someone unfit is trying to usurp our role and the right response is to fight to make the contribution we can. Even so, were we to confront that same situation, I wonder how many of us could react as Aharon did, even when certain that was what Hashem had decided.

Second, maybe more difficult, is the idea that we can figure out how Hashem is acting in this world by relating what happens back to what would have caused it. This middah ke-negged middah claim is certainly not only Ran’s but Ran is adamant about it, and it leaves us to wonder: how ready are we to accept that some events, happy or sad, point back to actions of ours, in a way whose message we are supposed to be able to understand?

In both cases, Ran is alerting us to the involvement of Hashem in what we might otherwise take to be a natural world that runs on its own. Sometimes Hashem puts one person in a job rather than another, and we’re supposed to be happy about it, and sometimes events are direct reactions to earlier ones, which we can see if we are only willing to be aware of it. Next time, Ran will tell us why the mitzvot of setting up the calendar and offering the Pesach sacrifice were the ones to kick off the Jewish people’s national relationship with Hashem.

About Gidon Rothstein

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