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Moses and Aaron: Brothers Dwelling Together

Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Shemos, 4:13: “He (Moshe) replied, ‘Please, my Lord, send through whomever you will send!’ The wrath of Hashem burned against Moshe and He said, ‘Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levi? 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.”
Shemos, 28:15, 30: “And you will make a Breastplate of Judgment (Choshen HaMishpat) of woven design…Into the Breastplate of Judgment you will place the Urim V’Tumim and they will be on Aaron’s heart when he comes before Hashem…”
Gemara, Shabbos, 139a: And Rebbe Milai says, ‘In the merit of, ‘and he (Aaron) will rejoice in his heart’ he merited to have the Choshen HaMishpat on his heart.

In Parshas Tetzaveh we find the Mitzva to make the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons. The regular Kohen’s uniform consisted of four garments and the uniform of the Kohen Gadol consisted of eight garments. One of these eight garments was a breast plate known as the Breastplate of Judgment (Choshen HaMishpat), which was worn on his heart. The Gemara1 explains that Aaron merited to wear the Breastplate of Judgment on his heart, because of the fact that “he rejoiced in his heart” when he saw his younger brother, Moshe, return to Egypt as the newly-appointed leader, even though it meant that Moshe would be replacing Aaron himself as the leader. The Breastplate of Judgment was not just an item of clothing, it also contained the Urim V’Tumim, which showed the correct course of action that should be taken.

The commentaries offer various explanations as to why Aaron’s joy in his heart in particular was the source of the merit that he wore the Breastplate of Judgment. The Maharsha explains that since Aaron was happy in his heart, measure for measure, he merited to wear the Breastplate of Judgment that covered the heart. The Maharsha adds that this comes to stress that he was not just externally happy, rather he was totally glad in his heart about the success of Moshe, even though it meant that he would no longer be the leader.

The Drashas HaRan2 discusses the deeper symbolism of the connection between Aaron’s joy and the Breastplate of Judgment. As mentioned above, the Breastplate of Judgment also contained the Urim V’Tumim. What exactly was the Urim V’Tumim? If the Jewish people had some type of question of national import, they would go to the High Priest, he would pose the question to the Urim V’Tumim, and the lights of the letters on the Breastplate of Judgment would illuminate in such a way as to spell out the miraculously communicated answer. Thus, the Urim V’Turim was basically just a drop below the level of Prophecy in terms of the High Priest receiving God’s word. The Ran notes that Prophecy is not something that we associate with the High Priest. His role was in the realm of service, while Prophets were in a totally separate category. This begs the questions of why here is the High Priest in particular, the person who is chosen to communicate with God via the Urim V’Tumim in a form of pseudo-prophecy?

The Ran answers that it is because of Aaron’s response to the news that Moshe would be the leading Prophet of the Jewish people in place of Aaron. The Sages teach that Aaron did have Prophecy in the eighty years that he led the Jewish people before Moshe became leader.3 Thus, it would have been understandable if Aaron would feel some small tinge of pain that he was losing his position as leading Prophet. However, on the contrary, Aaron demonstrated true happiness when he greeted Moshe after Moshe’s assumption of leadership and Prophecy amongst the nation. As a measure for measure reward for this joy, Aaron merited the reward that he received prophecy as well through his control of the Urim V'Tumim.

Thus far we have seen how Aaron felt absolutely no jealousy towards Moshe, and was as happy at Moshe’s success as his own. Do we see that Moshe reciprocated this attitude? Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz 4 brings a number of sources to prove that he did. He cites the verse in Psalms5, “A Song of Ascents to David: Behold how good and how pleasant is it when brothers dwell together in unity. Like the precious oil upon the head running down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down over his garments.” The Midrash6 states that King David is referring to the brothers, Moshe and Aaron. The Midrash notes the double usage of the word ‘beard’ and it explains that this come to teach that when the oil ran down the beard of Aaron, it was as if it also ran down the beard of Moshe himself because Moshe was as one with his brother. Thus, Moshe viewed Aaron’s joy as the same as his own.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz uses this idea to explain an interesting Gemara7. At the Burning Bush, after Moshe’s persistent refusal to lead the Jewish people, the Torah relates that God grew angry8, but the Torah does not seem to tell us of any consequence of this anger, or punishment to Moshe. Accordingly, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Korcha understands that this is the only place in the Torah where there is no punishment after God’s anger. However, Rebbe Yosi disagrees and says that the very next words show that there was a punishment: God says, “Is there not Aaron your brother the Levi? I know that he will surely speak”. Rebbe Yosi explains that by calling Aaron a Levi, God was alluding the fact that up until then Aaron was supposed to be a mere Levi while Moshe would be the High Priest, but as a punishment for his refusal to listen to God’s instructions, Moshe would no longer be the High Priest and Aaron would assume that role. The simple understanding of this dispute is that they disagree as to whether the words describing Aaron as a Levi was an allusion to Moshe losing the Priesthood to his brother. However, Rabbi Shmuelveitz suggests that everyone agrees that God was alluding to this punishment, but Rebbe Yehoshua Ben Korcha understands that Moshe was on such a level of unity with his brother, that he felt absolutely no pain at the fact that Aaron would be the High Priest in his place.

Needless to say, Moshe and Aaron reached an incredibly high level of absence of jealousy and joy at each other’s success. However, in truth, this is not considered to be a stringency – the Ramban understands that this is a fundamental part of the obligation of the fundamental Mitzva of ‘V’ahavta lereyecha kemocha’ – love your neighbor like yourself. He holds that the essence of the Mitzva is to want what’s best for one’s fellow, and to remove any vestiges of jealousy at his fellow’s success. Moshe and Aaron perfected this Mitzva – may we merit to emulate them.

  1. Shabbat, 139a.
  2. Drashot HaRan, 3, cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand.
  3. Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot, 27, cited by Rashi, Shmuel Aleph, 2:27, Dh: Hanigleh:
  4. Sichot Mussar, Maamar 51.
  5. Psalms, 133:1-2.
  6. Vayikra Rabbah, 3:6.
  7. Zevachim, 102a, also cited by Rashi, Shemot, 4:14, Dh:Vayichar Af:
  8. Shemot, 4:13.



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