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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. We must look at ourselves and see our strengths and abilities. In this way, every one of us can fully utilize our unique potential and serve G'd with all our heart, all our being and all our resources.
Moses and Aaron equal
It says in this week's Parasha, (Shemos 6:20-27): "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." Rashi quotes the Midrash (Mechilta 12:3) that points out 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. For at the end of the Torah it says: (Devarim 34:10) "Never again has there arisen 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 (Parashas Beha'aloscha), it also mentions how G'd admonished Miriam and Aaron when they compared Moses to other prophets and 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, in a clear vision and not in riddles …"
No changes to Torah
But why did G'd establish such a situation that eliminates the possibility for anyone else to rise to the same level as Moses. Does this not contradict the very foundation of free will? The answer is that Moses needed to be above any other prophet, since he is the one that G'd chose to convey the entire Torah 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 and claim 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 states that since the giving of the Torah no prophet has the authority to alter it in any form whatsoever.
Potential to be like Moses
So if Moses was so special, what do our sages mean when they say that Aaron was his equal? 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 level of Moses?
If we analyze the above verses more closely, we will notice that they speak about Moses being in a class of his own as a prophet. 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 context that we are taught that no one could ever reach the level 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, this raises another question. For we find that Moses is also singled out in a 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." The answer is that Moses' humility was a direct consequence of his great level of prophecy. Because he was such a great prophet, he had a clearer awareness of the omnipotence of G'd than anyone else. It is obvious that this is a most humbling situation. The real greatness of Moses was that his 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.
The first portion of the Shema is written in the singular. It says (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, with all your soul and all your resources". Everyone has their own special and unique abilities. The heart represents the seat of our feelings and emotions and the soul refers to our whole being in general. We are all obligated to utilize our special qualities to serve G'd. In the same way, we are given our personal resources that exactly suit our unique purpose. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my late father used to point out that it says with all your heart, all your soul and all your resources. This teaches 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 shall be happy with our lot (see Pirkei Avos 4:1). The deeper reason for this is that 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 we have been blessed with and how we can use it in the best possible way. By focusing on the positive we can utilize all our potential that we have been given by G'd.
Strengths and weaknesses
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 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 G'd with all our heart, all our being and all our resources. In this way we will honour G'd, benefit our fellow human beings, and bring satisfaction to ourselves.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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