The Rav and the Rebbe

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

In most places of the Torah when Moshe and Aharon are mentioned together it is Moshe’s name that the Torah records first and then that of Aharon. However, In Sefer Shemot,[ 6:26] Aharon’s name appears first, “Hu Aharon U’Moshe” “That is Aharon and Moshe”. Rashi suggests that these variations come to indicate that Moshe and Aharon were equal.

Rav Soloveitchik noted that a pattern of dual leadership seems to have prevailed during major periods of Jewish history. It began with Moshe and Aharon and is exemplified today by the Rav and the Chassidic Rebbe. Moshe was the Master Teacher. He was not called a king, although he exercised royal authority [see Devarim 33:5, Vayehi  Bishurun Melech], he was called Moshe Rabbeinu.  Aharon, who served alongside Moshe, was not only a Kohen Gadol, but a teacher as well. In describing the role of the Kohen, the Navi Malachi [2:7] declared, “For a Kohen’s lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth”

Both Moshe and Aharon were teachers, but their methods and personalities differed. Both led their communities along righteous paths and made sacrifices for their welfare, but their emphases varied.  The Master Teacher addresses himself to the mind. He engages the intellect, analyzing, classifying the details of Halacha with precision. Moshe, the Rambam, the Vilna Gaon and Rav Chaim Soloveithchik reflect the Master Teacher type.  Aharon was more of a Rebbe Teacher. Even as he deals with the text he focuses his attention upon the intangible soul of the Torah. The Torah, like a human being, has [according to the Zohar] both a physical “body” which is the text, and a “soul” which can be felt but not understood by the average person.  It is mysterious and can only be understood by one who studies with his heart as well as with his mind. One who sings and dances praises to GD with his body and soul can achieve the same closeness to GD as the Talmid Chacham [Torah Scholar]

The Master Teacher speaks to a select few, for not all are capable of being scholars, or qualified to understand the abstract halachot or scientific concepts. The Rebbe Teacher is a leader of the masses, for all Jews possess sensitive souls and seek GD.  Chassidism teaches that every Jew, even the non-scholar is capable of finding HaShem. Hence, the teaching of the Rebbe Teacher is accessible to all, while the Master teacher confines himself to the Bet Midrash, speaking primarily to the scholars, the lamdanim.

Moshe was a model of the Rav, Aharon of the Rebbe. Moshe was a Kvad Peh, a non-verbal person, not given to small talk, and easy socializing. He was Rabbeinu, primarily a teacher to Yehoshua, his successor , to the elders of Israel, and to those who were qualified to understand the intricacies of Torah and Halacha.  Aharon was closer to the masses, and easier to talk to. That is why when Moshe dies it states [Devarim 34:8] “Vayivku  Bnei Yisrael Et Moshe Shloshim Yom”. But when Aharon died, we find [Bamidbar 20:29] “Vayivku kol Bnei Yisrael Et Aharon Shloshim Yom”. By Moshe Bnei Yisrael wept, but by Aharon ALL Bnei Yisrael wept; for Aharon belonged to the masses.

Nowadays, the Rav has absorbed many of the qualities of the Rebbe; not only teaching, but coming close to the people.  While the Rebbe, now also emphasizes scholarship and intellect. The classic differences are still there, but the demarcation lines are at times blurred. Jewish leadership is most effective when it combines the mind and the heart in the service of HaShem. And Jewish greatness is manifest when our unity is accentuated and our differences are blurred.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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