Judaism: The Shmuz on Vaera
Rabbi BenZion ShafierThe author taught in the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva branch in Monsey, New York, where he resides. He is the director of theshmuz.com, and his book, Stop Surviving Start Living, is available thru the website or at Jewish bookstores.
“It was Aaron and Moses to whom G-d spoke....” — Exodus 6:26
After G-d commanded Moses and Aaron to be the emissaries to free the Jewish people, the Torah lays out their lineage. At the conclusion, the Torah repeats the names of Aaron and Moses, this time in reverse order with Aaron mentioned before Moses.
Rashi seems to be bothered by both the repetition of the names and the reversal of their order. He says this comes to teach us that Moses and Aaron were equal. Even though from that point forward, Moses would be the leader of the Jewish nation, don’t make any mistake. Aaron was just as great.
Wasn’t Moses far greater than Aaron?
The difficulty with this is that according to all measures, Moses was far greater than Aaron. Moses brought the plagues on Egypt. He led the Jewish people out of slavery. He split the Reed Sea. He received the Torah on Mount Sinai. But even more telling, he was the greatest prophet who ever lived. The only human who reached the level of seeing G-d with total clarity was Moses. There never was nor will there ever be a person who will reach that level.
So how can Rashi tell us that Moses and Aaron were equals when clearly Moses was on a higher level?
Two Systems for Measuring the Greatness of a Person
The answer to this question seems to be that there are two systems for judging a person’s greatness: one is absolute, and the other is subjective. When measuring a man based on the absolute standard of greatness in Torah and perfection, Moses was far greater than Aaron. He towered over any other human ever created. However, there is another system for measuring a person’s success. Based on his capacity and his potential, how much did he accomplish?
Before each person is born, he is predestined to have certain abilities and talents, a particular level of intelligence, and an exact disposition and temperament. At the end of his days, he will be compared to what he could have become. How far did he grow? How much did he accomplish with the tools given to him? This system is subjective. How much of his potential did he fulfill?
Moses may well have reached 99% of his potential, but so did Aaron. So even though in the absolute sense Moses was far greater, and others had to treat him as the greatest human being ever, in the subjective sense of reaching one’s capacity, Aaron was his equal, and as such was just as great. That is what the Torah is teaching by exchanging the order of their names.
I Won’t Be Compared to You
One of the most sobering concepts is that when I finish my job on this planet, I will be judged. But I will not be measured in absolute terms of how much Torah I mastered or how much I accomplished. That is far too inequitable.