Vaera: A Balancing Act

Who should come first, Moses or Aaron? Our Sages had a unique way of answering this question.

Contact Editor
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Adler,

Throughout the Torah we find that the order of birth and the order of worth do not coincide. Notable examples include the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe. In spite of the fact that Menashe was the first born, the traditional blessing to children (Bereishit 48:20) reverses the order “May G-d bless you as he did Ephraim and Menashe”. This reversal is explained by Jacob himself in the previous verse, when he says  that Ephraim would
The order of birth and the order of worth do not coincide.
surpass Menashe, his older brother,in greatness.

Another striking example is the various listings of the five daughters of Zelaphchod. In Bamidbar 26:33, we are given one such list whereas in Bamidbar 36:11, we are provided with quite a different order of the daughter's names. Rashi, on the second verse, comments that the former takes into consideration the order of worth, while the latter reflects the order of their births.
In this week's Torah reading, Vaera, two consecutive verses place the two sons of Amram in opposite order. In Shemot 6:26, we initially find Aaaron preceding Moses and in the very next verse Aaron follows Moses . Rashi comments that the phrase "this is Aaron and Moses" refers to their order of birth. [See I Chronicles 5 for an expressly stated order of birth]

Practically every other Biblical mentioning of the two brothers together places Moses before Aaron. Rashi, noting the interchange of order between Aaron and Moses, explains (following Tosephta, Keritut 4:15) that the Torah implies that both were of equal value, i.e. had the same “weight”.

Rabbi Baruch Epstein (author of Torah Temimah) notes that the central figure in bringing about the exodus from Egypt was Moses and due to Moses’ speech problem, the spokesman before Pharaoh was Aaron. One would expect a verse dealing with the exodus to feature Moses before Aaron. In a verse describing the task of spokesman before Pharaoh, one would expect Aaron's name to precede Moses’. Yet, in looking at the verses Shemot 6:26-27, we see that the very opposite is the case!  This is what apparently triggered our Sages to suggest equivalency between Aaron and Moses.

This suggestion of equivalency is somewhat marred given the axiomatic Judaic doctrine that none would ever be as great as Moses. This is the thrust of Devarim 34:10, which states that there never was and never will be a  prophet in Israel of Moses’ stature, the prophet who spoke to G-d face to face.

How, then, can the Sages speak of Moses and Aaron being of "equal weight". Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva head) suggested that the word the Sages used for “weight” does not actually mean "equivalency", but rather "mutually indispensible". Considering the teaching in Pirkei Avot 3:17 "If there is no bread, there is no Torah”, our Sages never intended to suggest any degree of equivalency between the spiritual world of Torah and basic food. Rather, they spoke of the necessary interdependence between the two. Both physical as well as spiritual foods are, in a sense, mutually indispensible. So, too, regarding Moses and Aaron, there is mutual indispensability.

No doubt, Moses was objectively greater than his older brother. However, Moses symbolized one type of leadership policy based upon the principle of absolute truth. [Talmud, Baba Batra 74a,] This is an uncompromising viewpoint necessary when considering Moses' unique relationship to G-d at the moment of the Giving of the Law. Aaron, on the other hand, complemented his brother by pursuing a policy of harmony in a social setting willing and
The leadership style of Moses differed radically from that of his brother, Aaron.
able to compromise in the name of peace and tranquility.

While the leadership style of Moses differed radically from that of his brother, Aaron, our Sages taught that both styles were of vital importance to the growth of the nation. Moses and Aaron were, properly balanced, mutually indispensible and, hence, were referred to as "of equally balanced weight”.

In reality, much tension should exist between those following the pattern of Moses ("truth”) and those in line with Aaron ("peace"). Yet, they need not contradict. The prophet Zechariah (8:19) predicts that the future rehabilitation of both of these seemingly contradictory values into one balanced whole will usher in a new era. No longer will there be a need for the nation to mourn its Temple's destruction. The public fast days will be converted into days of joy and festivities and “truth and peace will once again embrace”-- as equals."