“The Measure of Brotherly Love”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’eira, we read of the Al-mighty’s renewed promise of redemption, the genealogy of Moses and Aaron and the first seven of the ten plagues that are visited upon Egypt.

After being reassured by G-d that the redemption is at hand, Moses is instructed by the Al-mighty to go to Pharaoh, and to demand that Pharaoh send the Children of Israel from his land. Moses however, demurs, saying, Exodus 6:12, הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי, וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה, וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם, “Behold the Children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me? And I am slow to speak!”

G-d, however, persists, and commands both Moses and Aaron regarding the Children of Israel and Pharaoh, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

Unexpectedly, the Biblical narrative abruptly stops, and the Torah begins to list the genealogy of the tribes of Israel, beginning with the tribes of Reuben and Simeon, and concluding with the tribe of Levi.

Rashi explains that the reason that the Torah provides the genealogical list of the tribes at this point is to record the pedigree of the tribe of Levi and its most noted members, Moses and Aaron. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon are listed only to allow the Torah to focus on the genealogy of the tribe of Levi.

Thus, when listing the Levite families in Exodus 6:20, the Torah records that Amram married his aunt, Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. This then is followed by records of the family of Levi and the listing of the sons of Aaron.

The genealogy concludes with the statement in Exodus 6:26-27, הוּא אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הַשׁם לָהֶם, הוֹצִיאוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַל צִבְאֹתָם. הֵם הַמְדַבְּרִים אֶל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, לְהוֹצִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם, הוּא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, This was Aaron and Moses to whom G-d said: “Take the Children of Israel out of Egypt according to their legions.” They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; this was Moses and Aaron.

Many commentators, as well as Rashi, are puzzled by the change in the order of the names of Aaron and Moses in the two verses. Rashi explains that the Torah purposely lists Aaron before Moses in certain places and in other places records Moses before Aaron, in order to teach that both Moses and Aaron are of equal stature. (Rashi, quoting the Mechilta 12:1 and Shir Ha’Shirim Rabba 4:5).

The commentators question the assertion that Aaron could possibly be as great as Moses. After all, Moses spent forty days and forty nights in Heaven with the Al-mighty (Deuteronomy 9:11). The Torah testifies (Numbers 12:3) that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth, and that, of course, implies that he was more humble than Aaron as well. Scripture declares (Deuteronomy 34:10) that no prophet in Israel has ever arisen as great as Moses. How then could Moses and Aaron be considered equal to one another?

The Da’at Sofrim argues that the verse comes to underscore that Moses and Aaron were equal in humility. The Da’at Sofrim further asserts that just as it is customary for a great person to be given proper honor, so too is it customary, even in the best families, to ensure that the firstborn be accorded the proper respect.

However, says the Da’at Sofrim, these two great redeemers, Moses and Aaron, knew that the older must submit to the younger, since Aaron knew that his younger brother was to fulfill a greater task. Yet, with all his greatness, Moses knew to accord the proper honor to Aaron, the firstborn. Although the greatness of Aaron paled in comparison to the greatness of Moses, because of their mutual respect, they are seen as equal to one another.

The Malbim points out that both brothers played significant, but different, roles. When it came to the physical task of leading the Jews out of Egypt, Aaron played the more significant role, because the people were more attracted to him and his generous personality. Therefore, he alone spoke to the Children of Israel. However, when it came to the need to separate the people from the intense spiritual impurity of the Egyptians, Moses played the primary role.

The Torah Temimah notes a slightly different distinction in the brothers’ roles. When it came to acting as a spokesman, the Torah Temimah asserts, as did the Malbim, that Aaron’s role was primary. However, it was Moses who played the primary role in orchestrating the exodus from Egypt. The Torah Temimah points out that in verse 26, which specifically speaks of taking the Jews out of Egypt, Aaron is mentioned first. However, in verse 27 which refers to “speaking,” Moses is mentioned first, reversing the order that we might have expected. This, explains the Torah Temimah, is Scriptures’ way of indicating that both Moses and Aaron were equal to one another. Although they were both worthy and capable of being the speaker and the executor, Moses was given the primary role.

The Ha’amek Davar notes that the Israelites regarded Aaron as primary, even over Moses, because the people were never in a position to recognize Moses’ greatness, since he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace and spent much time in Midian. Thus, the people more easily recognized the sanctity and greatness of Aaron over Moses. However, in Pharaoh’s eyes, Moses was always recognized as greater, since Pharaoh already knew Moses’ brilliance from his youth, but he was not really familiar with Aaron.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, notes that throughout the book of Genesis, families are rent asunder because of lack of domestic tranquility. Brothers fight against brothers: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.

The book of Exodus marks a radical departure from the contentious family relations. When Moses returns from Midian (Exodus 4:27), he is greeted by his brother, Aaron, with a kiss. When the elders of Israel see the brotherly love between Moses and Aaron, the people are profoundly impressed. They are so deeply moved by the display of brotherly love that Scripture reports, Exodus 4:31, וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם, And the people believed.

The people were convinced that such brotherly love could only happen due to Divine intervention. Immediately, Scripture reports: “And they [the people] heard that G-d had remembered the Children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.”

The powerful demonstration of brotherly love between Moses and Aaron gave people hope, hope that redemption was at hand. Just as these brothers can love one another, so can there ultimately be peace for the Jewish people, and G-d will ultimately redeem His people from the enslavement and persecution of Egypt.

When these two great men, Moses and Aaron, demonstrated to the people that brothers can cherish each other, the people were reassured that redemption is indeed possible, and that its arrival is imminent.

May you be blessed.