The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
The Torah tells how Moses, who was depressed after his initial attempt to convince Pharaoh to release the Jewish people not only failed, but served to increase the burden on the Jews, questioned his suitability for this mission. G-d ordered him and Aaron to inform the people, through the 4 terms of redemption, that the exodus was imminent. The people ignored them out of shortness of breath due to their increased suffering. G-d then ordered Moses again to confront Pharaoh, and this time Moses asked why Pharaoh would listen to him if the Jewish People refused to listen to him, a stutterer. G-d again ordered Moses and Aaron to free the people. The Torah presents a biography of Moses and Aaron, culminating with a repetition of the command to Moses and Aaron to free the people, with the order of their names reversed. Why the repetition? Why introduce Moses and Aaron’s lineage at this juncture?
G-d appeared to Moses at the burning bush and commanded him to act as His emissary, Shaliach, to Pharaoh and the Jewish people. Moses initially refused the assignment because he felt that his speech impediment rendered him an inappropriate representative of G-d. G-d informed Moses that if a great warrior, political leader, or spokesman was required, perhaps he would not be the best choice. However, Moses was told that the climax of the exodus will be worshipping G-d on this mountain, the acceptance of the Written Law. To accomplish that, they must quickly transform from a group of slaves to a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. For that, the people require a teacher, and Moses was the best candidate for that. At that point, G-d granted Moses a spokesman and Aaron, his representative when bringing this message to the Jewish people. Moses was still the only one entrusted with the mission of redemption and speaking to Pharaoh.
Moses returned to Egypt and, with Aaron, he brought the Jewish people the message of redemption and they believed them. They then appeared before Pharaoh, where their mission met with disaster. Pharaoh blasphemed G-d and made life even more difficult for the Jews. Moses then complained to G-d, reiterating that he is not the man for the job, as he only made matters worse. G-d assured him that his mission will soon bear fruit.
During this second communication, G-d recalled the patriarchs and entrusted Moses with the mission of conveying the 4 terms of redemption, as well as the Judaic Philosophy they represent, to the Jewish people. G-d informed Moses about the different names He used with the patriarchs, each conveying a unique attribute of G-d’s relationship with each one of them. Abraham recognized G-d at an early age, but G-d did not communicate with him for many years until He instructed Abraham to travel to Canaan. Abraham sought G-d, however G-d did not seek Abraham. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enjoyed a relationship with G-d characterized as one of friendship: “Elokim Haroeh Oti Mayodi” (Ramban interprets Roeh as friendship). They were not messengers of G-d. Moses was the first to enjoy a dual relationship with G-d: friend and messenger. The Torah says, “Vayishlach Malach Vayotzianu M’Mitzrayim,” meaning “and G-d sent an angel and delivered us from Egypt” (Ramban interprets angel/messenger as Moses).
Moses’ mission to convey the terms of redemption to the people also meets with disaster. This time, the Jewish people ignored him due to the increased workload. They were in such a desperate state, that they lost all recognition of their suffering and were ready to surrender. After his depressing encounter with the Jewish people, G-d tells Moses to confront Pharaoh again and demand the release of the people. Moses questions his ability to convince Pharaoh, due to his lack of success in convincing the Jewish people to listen to him.
Until this point, Moses was the sole messenger of G-d charged with freeing the people. Aaron’s role was to be Moses’ messenger, not a redeemer. Now G-d, Kvayachol, is granting Moses’ request, telling him that if he feels incapable of speaking to Pharaoh, G-d will send Aaron to accompany him. Aaron’s mission changed from being Moses’ representative to the people, to becoming a partner in the task of convincing Pharaoh to release the people. Moses payed a steep price for relinquishing half of his role as redeemer of the Jewish people. The message of Pakod Yifkod that was to be fulfilled by one individual, is now turned on its head as there will be two redeemers.
Moses, the most humble of men, was ready to pay this steep price. At that point Aaron was elevated and the two are mentioned interchangeably, “Behold it is Moses and Aaron” or “They are the spokesmen, Aaron and Moses.” G-d commanded them both to redeem the people from Egypt. Some of the plagues were brought upon Egypt by Aaron alone, others were brought by Moses alone, and some were performed jointly, showing that both were equal partners in the task to free the people. Moses retained his status of Shaliach, agent of G-d, but Aaron not only retained his status as Moses’ messenger, he was also given the title of co-redeemer alongside Moses.
While Aaron became an equal partner with Moses in the redemption process, Moses alone retained the role of teacher he acquired at the burning bush. It was this role that would distinguish Moses as the greatest of all prophets while his siblings, Aaron and Miriam, remained on a lower level.
The willingness of a brother to share the redeemer role with his sibling was a sensational event. Extraordinary actions reported in the media often include a brief biography of the actors. The Torah tells us who these brothers were and which family they came from. Their lineage provides an insight into how one brother could act so selflessly towards his sibling, allowing him to share the honor and place in Jewish History. After announcing the lineage of these dual redeemers, G-d ordered them both to confront Pharaoh to convince him to release the Jewish people.