Mutual Kavod

Moshe and Aharon—a Relationship of Mutual Kavod

Moshe and Aharon’s relationship, at first glance, seems somewhat distant and even irrelevant to the narrative in Tanach. Mostly, they interact almost as two acquaintances or partners rather than brothers. However, when examined more closely, we see that they really had a much more intricate relationship based on mutual respect, honor, humility, and the desire to help each other.

When Hashem appears to Moshe in the סנה and directs him to go to Mitzrayim to take Bnei Yisrael out, Moshe refuses, saying he has no claim to the job. Hashem eventually says to him, “הלא אהרון אחיך הלוי” (1); He could’ve sent Aharon, but chose Moshe instead. Aharon would have been willing to do the job and was great enough, but Hashem wanted Moshe to be the leader. This seems like a good enough reason to cause animosity or jealousy between the brothers, yet we see throughout the story in Sefer Shemot that none of those feelings exist between them. Later in the same pasuk, Hashem tells Moshe that Aharon will come meet him, “וראה ושמח בלבו”—and Aharon was happy for Moshe. Rashi explains that Aharon was not upset when he found out that Moshe, his younger brother, would be given a higher position than him and that Moshe would actually tell him what to do. Because of this, Aharon merited to wear the חושן (2). Rashi’s comment is typically used to support the idea that Aharon was supportive of Moshe; however, there are many other situations and perushim that contribute to this idea as well.

Some mefarshim say that Aharon was only appointed to help lead Bnei Yisrael out of mitzrayim because Moshe had hesitated to accept the job–so essentially, this shared leadership was a punishment to Moshe! However, other mefarshim point out that though Aharon deserved to lead Bnei Yisrael himself, both Moshe and Aharon were essential to form the necessary leadership for Bnei Yisrael: Before Moshe re-entered the picture after his years in Midian, Aharon was already serving as the leader for Bnei Yisrael. Ibn Ezra explains that when Hashem speaks to Aharon to tell him to go meet Moshe, the word ויאמר implies direct conversation, not nevua. Aharon was on such a level that he didn’t need communication with Hashem to come through nevua. He already was the שליח for Bnei Yisrael and their leader. Moshe was sent to be the שליח to Paroh, and Miriam was the שליחה for the women (3). All three of them really were needed as leaders, and all three of them were on a level that enabled them to communicate directly with Hashem. Because Aharon was already the shaliach for Bnei Yisrael, he would continue to speak to Bnei Yisrael and Moshe would speak to Paroh. However, after Moshe complained to Hashem saying אני ערל שפתים, Hashem agreed that Aharon can speak to Paroh on Moshe’s behalf in addition to Bnei Yisrael (4). Ibn Ezra expounds on this exchange, saying that even though Aharon isn’t mentioned every time Moshe goes to Paroh, we know that they always went together and that Aharon always spoke. Moshe also never spoke to Bnei Yisrael directly–it was always through Aharon, and when Aharon died, his son Elazar took over (5).

But it’s not just that Aharon served as Moshe’s spokesman. It’s the fact that he did so with a positive attitude and accepted his role without questioning why he couldn’t just get instructions directly from Hashem, or why his younger brother was the one giving them. He respected Moshe as a leader and a teacher, and Moshe respected him in return. When Hashem told Aharon to meet Moshe on his way back to Mitzrayim, Sforno explains that it was like a student going out to greet his rav, as Moshe had been commanded, ואתה תהיה לו לאלוקים (6). Much later, we see that Aharon taught his sons to respect Moshe as well, because when Moshe rebuked them or not eating a korban he thought they were supposed to eat, Aharon responded on their behalf since Elazar and Itamar remained silent out of kavod for both their father and Moshe (7). Additionally, we read: ויעש אהרן ובניו את כל הדברים אשר צוה ה’ ביד משה—“Aharon and his sons followed all instructions given to them by Moshe” (8). The Sifra explains that this is praise to Aharon and his sons for following instructions with joy, as if they had been directly commanded from Hashem to do these things. The Gur Aryeh adds that people often feel resentment when they have to follow instructions given by their peers, but Aharon didn’t have those feelings (9). Aharon accepted his role and his brother’s greatness above his own. He was content with his role and looked to help Moshe and Bnei Yisrael in any way he could. He was known as איש אוהב שלום ורודף שלום — “a man who loved and searched for peace,” and he never tried to start arguments with Moshe.

But the things would not have worked out as well as they did if the relationship had been one-sided. Moshe, too, respected his older brother, as we see from many of the recorded interactions between him and Aharon. In fact, there are many more examples of Moshe acting in a way that shows kavod to Aharon than there are of the other way around, probably because it’s apparent that Aharon respected Moshe. On the other hand, it’s very easy for someone in a position of greatness to use his power to demand respect and not show it to others; therefore, the Torah, with the help of mefarshim, points out many instances in which Moshe treats Aharon with great respect. When Aharon goes out to greet Moshe on his way back to Mitzrayim, it says וישק לו–Aharon kissed Moshe. Ramban asks why it doesn’t say “וישק איש אל אחיו”–“they kissed each other,” and he answers that Moshe had lots of kavod for his older brother, and therefore didn’t kiss him (10).
Another example is after Chet HaEgel, when Moshe says to Aharon: מה עשה לך העם הזה כי הבאת עליו חטא גדולה. Moshe should have said, “What have you done that brought such a great sin upon Bnei Yisrael,” but instead he says “what did this nation do to you…” Out of kavod for Aharon, Moshe glossed over his individual sin and focused more on the general sin of Bnei Yisrael in order to avoid rebuking Aharon directly (11). Later on, Moshe redirects his anger from Aharon to Aharon’s sons when he and his sons don’t eat a korban Moshe thinks they’re supposed to eat (12, 13). When Aharon responds to Moshe and Moshe realizes that Aharon was right, the Torah says “וייטב בעיניו”. Moshe could have covered up his mistake by saying he didn’t know that halacha, but instead he wasn’t ashamed to admit that Aharon was right, giving him the kavod he deserved (14).
Hashem and the Torah also give kavod to Aharon. When Aharon goes with Moshe to Paroh to perform the אותות, he is rewarded by getting the kavod of being included in the conversation with Moshe and Hashem, in which Hashem gives Bnei Yisrael the first mitzvah, Rosh Chodesh (15). When Miriam and Aharon speak lashon hara about Moshe, Hashem isolates them from Moshe so that Moshe won’t hear Hashem rebuke Aharon (16). The Torah, in Az Yashir, calls Miriam “Aharon’s sister” in order to include him in Az Yashir and to give him kavod as the older brother (17). From these numerous examples, it is clear that even though Moshe was on a higher level than Aharon, he still treated his brother with immense respect.
Moshe and Aharon’s relationship worked so well because of the mutual displays of kavod and the lack of animosity between them. Neither was jealous of the other’s role, and both were content to help each other perform and carry out both their individual tasks and the greater task of leading the Jewish people. They were both integral pieces to the leadership of Bnei Yisrael–in fact, Rashi even tells us that in some places, Aharon’s name comes first, and in some places Moshe’s name comes first to show us that they’re really “שקולין”–equal (18). Yet we know that Moshe is unparalleled, so how is it possible that they were really equal on all levels? The Chozeh of Lublin says that it was only due to Aharon’s peacemaking abilities that Moshe was able to attain the level of ruach hakodesh that he did, so given that Moshe alone wouldn’t have been the “Moshe Rabbeinu” we know, they were שקולין. R’ Aharon Soloveitchik explains it differently. He bases his idea on a midrash that quotes Tehillim פ:יא, which says: “חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו”. He says that emet and tzedek refer to Moshe, and chesed and shalom refer to Aharon. They represented two different sides of the Torah, and together they worked as the leaders for Bnei Yisrael (19).

Student Studying in MMY

1) Shmot 4:14
2) Shmot 4:14 Rashi וראה ושמח בלבו
3) Shmot 4:27 Ibn Ezra ויאמר
4) Shmot 4:15 Ramban עם פיך
5) Shmot 7:1 Ibn Ezra אתה תדבר; Shmot 4:30 Ibn Ezra וידבר
6) Shmot 4:27 Sforno לך לקראת משה המדברה
7) Vayikra 10:10 Rashi וידבר אהרון
8) Vayikra 8:36
9) Artscroll Chumash, English commentary on Vayikra 8:36
10) Shmot 4:27 Ramban וישק לו
11) Shmot 32:21 Ramban מה עשה לך העם הזה
12) Vayikra 10:16
13) Vayikra 10:16 Rashi על אלעזר ועל איתמר
14) Vayikra 10:20 Rashi ויטב בעיניו
15) Shmot 12:1 Rashi ויאמר ה׳ אל משה ואל אהרון
16) Bamidbar 12:5 Rashi ויצאו שניהם
17) Shmot 15:20 Ramban אחות אהרון
18) Shmot 6:26 Rashi הוא אהרון ומשה