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Torah Attitude: Parashas Va'Eira: Everyone being equal
Moses and Aaron were both equal. Moses rose to a level not reachable by any other human being. Every single person has the potential to become a Tzaddik like Moses. Moses was above any other human being as a prophet. No prophet can get up and say that G'd instructed him to make any changes to the Torah. Every one has the free will to elevate himself to be a truly righteous person. The first portion of the Shema teaches us that everyone has been blessed with special abilities with which to serve G'd. By focusing on the positive we can utilize all the blessings we have been personally given by G'd.
Moses and Aaron equal
In this week's Torah portion, it says (Shemos 6:20-28): "And Amram took his aunt Yocheved as a wife and she bore him Aaron and Moses … This was Aaron and Moses to whom G'd said 'Take the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt' … This was Moses and Aaron." The Midrash (Mechilta 12:3) observes, as quoted by Rashi, that sometimes Aaron is mentioned before Moses and sometimes Moses is mentioned before Aaron. This, says the Midrash, comes to teach us that they were both equal.
Moses the greatest prophet
This seems very strange as at the end of the Torah it says: (Devarim 34:10) "Never again has there arisen [or will there arise] in Israel a prophet like Moses." This clearly indicates that Moses was greater than any other prophet including his older brother Aaron. The Rambam in the 7th of his 13 Principles of Faith elaborates on this and explains the difference between Moses and all other prophets. Says the Rambam: "The prophecy of our teacher Moses was in a class of its own. He was above all over prophets who came before and after him. He actually rose to a level not reachable by any other human being." In the Torah we find further how G'd admonished Miriam and Aaron when they compared Moses to other prophets. G'd point out that Moses' prophetic experience was on a higher level than what was experienced by all other prophets. He said to them (Bamidbar 12:6-7):"When there are prophets among you, I, G'd, shall show Myself in a vision to him. I shall speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses … Mouth to mouth I shall speak to him [Moses], in a clear vision and not in riddles …"
No changes to Torah
We may further ask why did G'd establish such a situation that eliminates the possibility for anyone to rise to the same level as Moses. Does this not contradict the very foundation of free will? However, we can understand the necessity for Moses to be above anyone else, since he is the one G'd chose to convey the entire Torah with the 613 mitzvot to the Jewish Nation for all generations. His authority must forever be indisputable. As it says, (Shemos 19:9) "And G'd said to Moses, 'Behold, I shall come to you in the thickness of the cloud in order that the people shall hear when I speak to you and they will also believe in you forever.'" In this way G'd ensured that the Torah would not be changed in any way or form in the future. No prophet can get up and say that G'd instructed him to make any changes to the Torah that was given to us through Moses, by claiming that he is greater than Moses. For G'd told us once and for ever that never will there be a prophet greater than Moses. The Talmud (Megillah 26) establishes this fundamental belief and teaches that since the giving of the Torah not even a prophet has the authority to alter it in any form whatsoever. So if Moses was so special, how can our sages suggest that Aaron was his equal?
Potential to be like Moses
It is even more difficult to understand what the Rambam writes in the Laws of Repentance (5:1-2) "Permission has been given to every human being, if he wants he can turn onto the road of goodness and be a righteous person … And if he wants to turn himself onto the road of evil and be a wicked person he can do so … Don't entertain the thought that G'd decrees on a person when the person is born whether to be a righteous person or a wicked person. This is not so. Rather every single person has the potential to become a Tzaddik like our teacher Moses or a wicked person like Yerovom …" How can we be told that we can all strive to be like Moses at the same time as it says that no one will ever reach the same level as Moses?
If we analyze the above texts more closely, we will notice that they speak about Moses being in a class of his own as a prophet. Both the Torah and the Rambam discuss his supreme level of prophecy. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto explains in Derech Hashem (The Way of G'd 3:5) that whenever G'd revealed Himself to Moses, he was fully awake and received a crystal clear message with no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Other prophets did not achieve such a lofty level of clarity. They were shown an image during a dream or in a trance with a message that they had to interpret. It is in this connection that we are taught that no one could ever reach the level of clarity of Moses.
On the other hand, when the Rambam speaks about righteousness and wickedness he explains that everyone has the free will to elevate himself to be a truly righteous person just like Moses. No one is restricted from developing a sterling character in their relationship with G'd and their fellow human beings. However, we do find that Moses is singled out in one character trait above everyone else. As it says, (Bamidbar 12:3) "And the man Moses was extremely humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth." But this can be explained as being a direct consequence of his great level of prophecy. The greater a prophet, the clearer is his awareness of the omnipotence of G'd. It is obvious that this is a most humbling situation. The real greatness of Moses was that this humbleness did not only manifest itself in his relationship with G'd but also with his fellow human beings.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that when our sages teach that Moses and Aaron were equals they are not talking about their level of prophecy or piety, but rather that each one fully utilized their capabilities in their service of G'd. Every human being is blessed with specific abilities and potentials that they need in life to fulfill their unique purpose. G'd does not measure our achievements as much as our effort and toil. Our achievements are in the hands of G'd Himself; whereas the effort and toil is our input. Rabbi Moishe Chaim Luzatto writes (Path of the Just Chapter 1): "The foundation of piety and the root of complete service of G'd is for every individual to clarify what is his obligation in his world and towards what should he focus and aim with all that he toils throughout his life." Rabbi Luzatto here directs us to understand that every individual has their personal obligation that they must discover how to achieve.
In the first portion of the Shema it says in the singular "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul and all your resources" to teach us that everyone has been blessed with special and unique abilities. The heart represents the seat of our feelings and emotions and the soul refers to our whole being in general. Every person has their special qualities that should be utilized to serve G'd. In the same way, everyone is given personal resources that exactly suit the need for their unique purpose. My father z"l used to point out that it says with all your heart, all your soul and all your resources. This indicates that we must strive to utilize all of our Divine blessings in our service of G'd.
Focus on the positive
Our sages teach that we have to be happy with our lot (see Pirkei Avos 4:1) because the lot allotted to each one matches exactly our job and purpose in life. Too often we look around envious of what others have, whether it is wealth, family or other achievements, questioning why could I not have this or why could I not have done that? The truth is that rather than looking at our neighbour we should look at ourselves to see and analyze what I do have and what I can do. By focusing on the positive we can utilize all the blessings we have been personally given by G'd. It is well known that in education it is important to build and encourage every child to utilize their strengths and focus on their abilities rather than their weaknesses. In the same way we must look at ourselves and see our strengths and abilities instead of feeling depressed and bad about what we do not have and what we can not do. In this way, every one of us can fully utilize our unique potential and serve our G'd with all our heart, all our being and all our resources for the honour of G'd, the benefit of our fellow human beings, and to the satisfaction of ourselves.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network