And as for Aaron, what is he?

Why, then, does Moshe say to Korach(16:11)’And as for Aaron, what is he:- מה הוא, that you protest against him?’

Danny Ginsbourg, | updated: 12:00

Judaism Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg
Our parsha relates Moshe Rabbeinu’s reply to Korach’s demands:(16:8)’Is it not enough that the G-d of Israel has segregated you.. and all your brethren, the offspring of Levi’, to serve in the Temple, and to minister to the people, ‘yet you seek כהונה:priesthood, as well!’.

Onkelos translates: ‘to be appointed as Cohen Gadol’.

Why, then, does Moshe further say to Korach(16:11)’And as for Aaron, what is he:- מה הוא, that you protest against him?’

As the intent of Korach was to replace Aaron, this was surely self-explanatory!

Answers the Alshich Hakadosh: Moshe was saying:‘Since you, Korach, are claiming that I, and not Hashem, appointed Aaron to be the Cohen Gadol, your quarrel is with me! So why are you blaming Aaron?!’

The Slonimer Rebbe, the Darchei Noam, offers a different interpretation of Moshe Rabbeinu’s words: ‘Aaron, what is he’.

He was telling Korach, that even before Aaron entered his appointed role, he did so with great trepidation and hesitation.

Our sages relate (Torat Cohanim to Shmini 9:7)that he was בוש וירא מלהתקרב, shy and did not want to approach, until Moshe Rabbeniu said to him: ‘Why are you so fearful and bashful to approach the altar? It is precisely because of this, that you were chosen to be Cohen Gadol’. 

From the outset Aaron felt himself unworthy, and only accepted out of complete subservience to Hashem’ Will.
And now, as then:as the Ramban notes, Aaron did not say a word, in response to Korach’s words.
In fact, says the Ramban, in his total humility, by his silence he was, as it were, accepting that Korach’s claims were justified, and that he, Aaron was unworthy of the high honor.

The Sefat Emet comments: It was precisely because of Aaron’s humility and total submission to Hashem’s Will, that he was chosen to be the Cohen Gadol; because in his own eyes:’מה הוא’, I am ‘nothing’, as it were.
Our sages (Chullin 89.) offer a beautiful insight into how critical this humility and self-negation is.

They note that similar language is found in the pasuk( Beshalach 16:8)’and we’ Moshe and Aaron, ‘what are we:ונחנו מה , that you should complain against us’; and they link it to yet another pasuk, with a similar word: (Job 26:7)תולה ארץ על בלימה:He  suspends the world on ‘nothingness’:בלי-מה;and they expound homiletically: the existence of the world is in the merit of those who see themselves as ‘nothing’, as ‘נחנו מה’- like Moshe AND Aaron.

Finally, let us revisit the ‘genesis’ of Aaron’s choice to be a Cohen.

We read (Shemot 4:14):’And Hashem said to Moshe: behold, your brother Aaron the Levi is gifted with words..and he is coming to you in the desert, and he rejoices in his heart’.

Our sages (Zebachim 102.)ask rhetorically: Aaron ‘the Levi’? Was he not a cohen? And they answer: Hashem said to Moshe: You were to be a cohen, and Aaron, a levi; but now, he will be the cohen, and you the levi.

Because ‘he rejoices in his heart’:Aaron had every reason to feel slighted: for decades he had led, and comforted, Bnei Israel in their terrible suffering. He had every reason to expect that, when the time came for their redemption, he would be given the ‘honor’ to lead them out of their slavery in Egypt.

And, instead, when that time arrives, his younger brother, who had been absent for decades, reappears, and is to be the redeemer!

Surely any mortal would feel slighted, and hardly done by! Yet, the Torah testifies that Aaron rejoiced in the choice of Moshe, ‘with a heart full of joy’.

And, this total lack of ego, of being ‘Aaron, מה הוא’, and his total acceptance of Hashem’s Will, even at ‘his own expense’, is why Hashem appointed him to be the cohen.

This is ‘WHAT was’ Aaron the Cohen: He is ‘the man whom Hashem’ chose- ‘he is the holy one’(16:5).