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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh: Being selfless like Moses and Aaron
Aaron shall wear a breastplate upon his heart. "The heart that rejoiced at the greatness of his brother shall be cloaked with the breastplate." Moses and Aaron were both totally self-neglecting. The philanthropist was so concerned that he should be able to fulfill his obligation that he totally neglected to focus on what would be the best way to help and benefit the poor person. A real hero's only concern is the common benefit of whatever he is involved in, rather than boosting his own ego.
In this week's Parasha, the Torah writes about the various garments that Aaron and his sons should wear when they performed the service in the Tabernacle. The Torah (Shemos 28:30) states that Aaron shall wear a breastplate upon his heart on top of the other garment. This breastplate was adorned with twelve precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. The Talmud (Yuma 73a) teaches that when the Jewish people had a question of national importance the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) would dress himself in his special garments. Someone would ask him the question and immediately some of the inscribed letters would protrude and with Divine spirit the Kohein Gadol would be able to decipher G'd's instructions to the Jewish people.
The Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 3:16-17) relates why Aaron was chosen to become Kohein Gadol and wear this special breastplate. When G'd revealed Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush, and instructed him to go down to Egypt to lead the Jewish people out of their bondage, Moses was extremely reluctant to accept the mission. The Midrash says: "Do you really think Moses did not want to go? That is not the case. Moses was concerned about the honour of Aaron. He said, 'For the last eighty years my brother Aaron has prophesized in Egypt. If I now take over and become the leader, I enter his domain. He will be pained.' That is why Moses did not want to go. To this G'd responded and said to Moses, 'You think that Aaron is going to be pained? It is not so; just the opposite. He is going to be happy. As it says (Shemos 4:14): 'Aaron your brother … is going out to meet you and he will see you and he will rejoice in his heart.''" Concludes the Midrash, "the heart that rejoiced at the greatness of his brother shall be cloaked with the breastplate. As it says (Shemos 28:30) "And they shall be on the heart of Aaron."
Moses and Aaron self-neglecting
Moses and Aaron were both totally self-neglecting. This is evident from the way the Torah describes how they spoke to the Jewish people (Shemos 16:6-7): "And Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel … 'What are we?'" In their great modesty, they did not see themselves as anything but messengers of G'd to do His will. When G'd wanted to appoint Moses, he was concerned not to upset his brother and inflict any pain upon him. Similarly, Aaron was totally at ease, and even happy, when he saw that Moses was chosen to be the leader above him. Neither of them was for a moment concerned about their own personal esteem. That is why G'd chose them to take the Jewish people out of Egypt and to be the leaders throughout the sojourn in the wilderness.
Lady crossing the street
The story is told of a teacher who discussed with his students the importance of doing acts of kindness. The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 2:12) quotes from Rabbi Chaim Vital (Gate of Holiness) how a person must make every effort not to let a day pass without helping someone else in one way or another, just like one must make sure to study Torah every day. The teacher instructed the boys in his class that the next day he wanted each one to report back to him what act of kindness they had performed. The next day one boy proudly told the teacher how he had helped an elderly lady cross the street at a certain intersection. His friend sitting next to him said to the teacher that he had also helped this lady cross the street. In the end, it turned out that six boys had been involved to get the lady across the street. The astonished teacher asked them, why did they need six boys to help this lady? They answered that this was because she did not really want to cross.
The unfocused philanthropist
Another story is told about a philanthropist who wanted to fulfill the obligation to donate money to the poor on Purim in the best possible way. He searched high and low to find a person who really fit the halachic requirements to be considered poor. He was extremely happy when he found such a person a few weeks before Purim and went to great lengths to ensure that no one else would find out about this pauper. He was scared that if someone would give him money before Purim he would not be really poor anymore. These stories probably never happened, but the message is clear. It is not uncommon that someone invites a needy person and feels great about this act of kindness. Little does he realize that the needy person feels that he is the object of the host's desire to do a good deed. With a little effort it is possible to reverse the situation and make the guest feel great. The Torah (Shemos 22:24) says: "When you lend money to My people to the poor with you …" Rashi quotes our sages who point out that it says "My people". G'd reminds us that the needy person is one of His people and we shall therefore accord this person proper respect as fitting for one of G'd's people. Secondly, it says, "let this person feel that he is your equal." My late father z"l would often thank the needy who came to his door to ask for a donation. Once a poor person asked him, "Why do you thank me? I should thank you." My father answered him, "You see. I have this money to donate, but how do I know who to give it to? There are so many worthy causes and needy individuals. By you coming to my door I understand that you are one of the people I should donate to. That is why I thank you." Likewise, if we thank the needy people we invite for coming and enhance our meal, we can make them feel good about themselves. The boy and the philanthropist were so concerned that they should be able to fulfill their obligation that they totally neglected to focus on what would be best for the one they wanted to help. There are many such instances when people get so self-absorbed that they forget the real meaning of their Torah obligations.
This is even more evident in other areas of people's lives. Very often political leaders are more concerned that they should be recorded in history with having accomplished great achievements rather than having the benefit of their constituents in mind. A good soldier, or a good employee, is not necessarily the one who wants to do himself what needs to be done. Rather, it is someone who makes sure the job is done by the person or persons most suited to perform it. The same applies in any forum. Such a person is a real hero. His only concern is the common benefit of whatever he is involved in, rather than boosting his own ego. We must all strive to emulate Aaron and Moses. In this merit, may we soon experience G'd's salvation for the Jewish people, together with all of mankind, with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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