Friday, January 20, 2012

Nominated for Best Supporting Role

Parshat Va'era

by Rabbi Avi Billet

I have a hard time understanding the role of Aharon, Moshe's brother, in the exodus story.

When he is first appointed to be the leader/redeemer of Israel, Moshe presents a number of arguments as to why he is not the best man for the job. He may even hint to the idea that Aharon would be a more worthy choice.

God's response in 4:14 is a display of anger, followed by "Is not Aharon the Levite your brother? I know that he knows how to speak! He is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, his heart will be glad."

In other words, if you Moshe are nervous about speaking to Pharaoh, Aharon will take care of this for you. In fact, the first time we see Aharon speaking on Moshe's behalf is in 4:30, when he addresses the nation of Israel, convincing them that Moshe was sent by God: "Aaron related all the words that God had told Moses, and he demonstrated the miraculous proofs before the people."

When they came to Pharaoh in chapter 5, we were told "Moshe and Aharon then went to Pharaoh and said, 'This is what Hashem, God of the Hebrews, declares: 'Let My people leave, so they can sacrifice to Me in the desert.''" In this instance, the indications point to Aharon and Moshe sharing the limelight.

But after this, the narrative presents a different story.

In our parsha, "Moshe related this to the Israelites, but because of their disappointment and hard work, they would no longer listen to him." (6:9) Note how Moshe is the speaker.

A little while later, after twice claiming his unease with the prospect of speaking to Pharaoh after having being denied by his own people, we see "God said to Moses, 'Observe! I will be making you like a god to Pharaoh, and your brother Aharon will be your prophet. You must announce all that I order you to, and your brother Aharon will relate it to Pharaoh. He will then let the Israelites leave his land."

As clear as it seems that Aharon is going to be Moshe's mouthpiece, we don't really see that coming to fruition. Certainly not in the times they relate to Pharaoh.

So why all the hype about Aharon? Moshe is very clearly the leader, and while Aharon does speak once or twice in Moshe's place, Moshe seems very capable of holding his own – with the people and with Pharaoh. Why are they, in many respects, viewed as equals?

Because Moshe needed to grow into his role. That he was chosen by God on account of the character and qualities he possessed is clear. But, like any human leader, the fact of being chosen (or elected) does not mean the person is completely ready for the job. A President or Prime Minister might be a great leader, but it does not mean the person is prepared for all the intricacies of the job, or is even a great public speaker. This is why people like a press secretary and a public relations representative have jobs. Obviously a public speaking ability is a tremendous asset. But sometimes a person needs to grow into that comfort zone.

Moshe cared for the underdogs in every fight he ever encountered. And Egyptian bondage, in that sense, was perfect for him to battle head-on. No one is as needy for an advocate as are slaves.

But it's a little different when one does his own private vigilantism versus when one has to play political hardball, and stand up against a despot in an arena that is not only very real, but carries the safety and future of an entire nation on its shoulders.

Having lived in Egypt his whole life, and having been in the trenches with the people, Aharon was a great supporting character to wean Moshe into his new role.

But Moshe adapted quickly (there are plenty of commentaries who explain that he did not have a speech impediment, but was very nervous about his assignment) and was quickly able to say, "Thanks for offering Aharon as my support staff. He will be a tremendous help in other ways. But I no longer need him to be my mouthpiece."

May we all be blessed to have such loyal mentors in our lives. Moshe was able to fill his roll with such ease and so quickly because he had his brother Aharon guiding him, with class, dignity, and with a sense of support which said, "I'm there if you need me, but I look forward to cutting the strings and removing the training wheels so you will be able to fly on your own."

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