“It shall be the man whom I shall choose – his staff will blossom …” (Bamidbar 17:20)
Our sages note that Aharon was already chosen to be the Kohen Gadol, as the verse says in the previous chapter (16:7). What is the purpose of this additional “choosing?” Moreover, why indeed was Aharon chosen to be the Kohen Gadol at all?
Those who initiated the rebellion against Moshe and Aharon argued that everyone was holy – “The entire assembly are holy,” they said (16:3) – which Rashi expounds to mean that all of the Jewish nation heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai. What was Aharon’s merit beyond that of everyone else? In truth, there were many outstanding individuals with leadership qualities in that generation, such as the nasi Nachshon ben Aminadav and members of the Sanhedrin.
Moshe responded to Korach and his assembly: “And as for Aharon – what is he that you protest against him?” (16:11). Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin cites the Talmudic saying that a person’s true character can be ascertained from three things: “his cup,” i.e. his conduct when drinking; “his pocket,” i.e. his financial dealings; and “his anger” (Eruvin 65b). Rabbi Shapiro notes that none of these could be applied to Aharon. Kohanim cannot do their service under the influence, so he was not a drinker; all kohanim received the same measure of mahn from Heaven; and Aharon’s extreme humility meant he could not be incited to anger. When Moshe said, “What is he?” he meant that Aharon could not be characterized in any of these ways – and as such, they didn’t really know him.
The Mesikus HaTorah explains that the Torah is eternal and serves as a blueprint for all future generations. Although there are many wise men who are holy and pure among the Jewish People, the Divine Spirit only rests upon one who is humble and modest, as the Talmud says, “One who humbles himself, Hashem exalts him” (Eruvin 13b). A humble individual will always seek to know the best way to serve Hashem.
Ramban notes that when the people gathered against Moshe and Aharon, only “Moshe fell on his face” (Bamidbar 16:4). Aharon, in his humility, did not engage in the dispute, as if to acknowledge that Korach was indeed more meritorious of prestige than he was. Aharon was able to reach a level of humility and subservience unequaled by others. This is alluded to in the words of the pasuk “v’kach mei’tam mateh mateh l’vais av” – “and take from them one staff for each father’s house” (17:2). The word mateh can also imply unpretentiousness or submissiveness, i.e. it is that characteristic that would cause the staff to blossom from among the others.
The sefer MiToraso shel Rabbeinu states that humility is a fundamental characteristic necessary for the establishment of all other good character traits, as it says in Mishlei: “The result of humility is fear of Hashem” (22:4). It is the presence of humility that determines whether one merits leadership of the Jewish Nation; and, if one becomes arrogant after he assumes leadership, Hashem removes him from that position.
Humility also facilitated Aharon’s role as a peacemaker and pursuer of peace. People perceived his humility and sincerity and were confident that his motives to advance peace were genuine.
We are approaching the shloshim for the great Torah leader Rav Gershon Edelstein, zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh. Even from his hospital bed, the 100-year-old Torah giant delivered shiurim until his last day on earth.
The following amazing incident was publicized after the tzaddik’s petirah:
On the day preceding the beginning of the Elul zman at Ponovezh Yeshiva, a young man from outside of Eretz Yisrael came to Bnei Brak to join the yeshiva. Carrying his heavy suitcases, the bochur spotted an elderly man walking slowly and approached him.
“Excuse me,” the newcomer said to the man – unaware that this was Rav Gershon Edelstein himself – “could you tell me where the Ponovezher Yeshiva is?”
Rav Gershon looked at the young man laden with luggage. “Come with me,” he humbly replied. “I’m also going to the yeshiva, and I will show you.”
The bochur thanked him. “Are you one of the rebbeim there,” he inquired, “or are you one of the people who learns there in the kollel?”
“I am one of the workers in the yeshiva,” Rav Gershon answered. “Could I possibly help you with one of your bags, so you won’t be so weighed down with your belongings?”
The boy appreciated the offer and handed over one of his bags. Rav Gershon took the bag and continued to carry it until they were inside the yeshiva building.
The next day, when the bochur came in to hear the general shiur that was being given for the whole yeshiva, he was shocked to see that the elderly man who had carried his bag a day earlier was none other than the rosh yeshiva himself.
Within the person of Rav Gershon Edelstein, the highest levels of greatness and humility met and co-existed in perfect synchrony with each other.