“The Brothers: Moses and Aaron”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald


Parashat Tetzaveh deals almost exclusively with the Kehuna, the office of the priesthood. It focuses on the priests’ duties, their vestments, their selection to serve and minister in the Tabernacle, and their inauguration.

It is fascinating to note that from the time that the name of Moses is first mentioned in Exodus 2, through the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the name of Moses appears in every single Torah portion with the exception of parashat Tetzaveh.

In parashat Tetzaveh 5772-2012 we previously dealt with the question of “Where is Moses?” Among the answers offered for the absent leader is that parashat Tetzaveh is entirely focused on Aaron and the functions of the priests. Moses, therefore, removed himself from center stage to allow his brother Aaron to have his moment to shine, and assume his central role as the chief spiritual and religious minister of the People of Israel.

Following the opening verses of parashat Tetzaveh, G-d speaks to Moses [of course not by name] saying in Exodus 28:1: וְאַתָּה הַקְרֵב אֵלֶיךָ אֶת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי , You [Moses] should bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the Children of Israel, to minister to Me. The Torah then lists Aaron’s sons: Nadav, Abihu, Elazar and Itamar.

The Chassidic Rabbi,  Reb Naphtali of Ropshitz commented on this verse by noting that Moses was by nature a very private person, who would often seek solitude and engage in meditation. The Bible (Exodus 33:7) even records that Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp. Aaron, on the other hand, had a warm and welcoming personality. The Talmud (Avot 1:12) describes Aaron as, אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם , that he [Aaron] was a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace. Commenting on the seemingly extra word, אֵלֶיךָ , bring Aaron near to you, Reb Naphtali of Rophshitz suggests that G-d says to Moses, “Bring Aaron your brother near to you, so that you can learn from him how to come close to the people. A leader cannot be standoffish.”

While the words “near to you,” may mean to learn from Aaron how to become more of a “people person,” it may also imply, “come close, so that you and Aaron can bond together as brothers.”

From the beginning of the Torah, until the book of Exodus, the relationship between brothers is notoriously unsuccessful. Cain kills his brother, Abel. Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, are in relationships that can best be described as dysfunctional, if not worse.

Even though it takes place during the most trying times of enslavement in Egypt, with the book of Exodus, a new chapter of brotherhood dawns.

According to the Biblical account, it is very likely that Aaron never really had a chance to bond with his younger brother, Moses. Because of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all of the male children by throwing them into the river, Moses was hidden as an infant. Once he was brought to his mother, Yocheved, at the behest of Pharaoh’s daughter, to serve as his nursemaid, we have no idea how long she was able to keep Moses at home. Apparently, not very long, because shortly after Moses was weaned, he went to live in Pharaoh’s palace. According to the Midrash, at age twenty, Moses had to flee for his life from Pharaoh, and remained in Midian for sixty years.

After G-d appears to Moses at the Burning Bush and designates him to be the redeemer of Israel, G-d encourages Moses by assuring him that despite this long separation from his family, he will be warmly welcomed when he returns to Egypt. In Exodus 4:14, the Almighty reassures Moses הֲלֹא אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ הַלֵּוִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא, וְגַם הִנֵּה הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ, וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ , Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak; moreover behold he is going out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.

The toxic relationship that characterized Joseph and his brothers, the envy, the jealousy and murderous thoughts, is nowhere to be found in the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Despite being the older brother, Aaron does not appear to be at all threatened or jealous of Moses, who has been chosen by G-d to serve as the primary leader of Israel. Aaron could have justifiably said to himself, “Not only am I older, I have been with the people and have observed the travails of the people for the last sixty years, while he [Moses] was away, writing poetry and shepherding in Midian. My brother Moses never even lived as a Jew among the Jews, how can he possibly lead the people? I am far more appropriate to lead, and more worthy. Besides, I have a much more suitable personality for leadership. People love me and trust me. Moses is an unknown.”

This then is the meaning of the verse, “Bring near to yourself Aaron, your brother and his sons with him.” Step aside from the limelight, Moses; let your brother Aaron take center stage. Allow him to emphasize the talents that he has, and that you lack. Do not feel threatened.

Of course, there are some “hiccups” in the relationship along the way. Moses lashes out at Aaron (Exodus 32:21) when he suspects that he was not firm enough with the people, allowing them to create a Golden Calf. Apparently, Aaron is forgiven for that, by both Moses and G-d. Aaron speaks out against Moses (Numbers 12:1) for taking a Cushite woman, and although Aaron is not personally punished, he sees his beloved sister, Miriam, suffer, which may be more painful than his own physical suffering.

At the end of their lives, the brothers are once again united. The two great leaders are punished together and forbidden to enter the Promised Land because of their momentary anger when they hit the rock, instead of speaking to the rock to bring forth water.

Even in death they are joined. Both Moses and Aaron die with a Divine kiss. It is a most appropriate kiss for two brothers who showed such profound affection and respect for one another. This is a true model of brotherhood!

May you be blessed.

Please Note: This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor. It is the second of four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion is read from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 about remembering Amalek. Most authorities consider it a positive commandment for both men and women to hear this particular Torah reading.