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Parsha Shemos

01/04/2018 09:02:16 PM


After God appears to Moshe and instructs him to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe is reluctant to accept the position because of his speech impediment.  He tells God to “send the one you usually send”, a reference to his brother Aron.  God becomes angry with Moshetells him to lead and that Aron “the Levi” will speak on his behalf.  In the Gemara in Zevachim 102, R’ Yosi says there are always ramifications from God’s anger, and in this instance as well, Moshe was punished for angering God.  While the original plan was for Moshe to be the Kohen Gadol and for Aron to be the simple Levi who served the Kohen Gadol, their roles would now be reversed.  Aron assumes the position of Kohen Gadol and Moshe is lowered to the plain Levi status.  What was the significance of this switch?  Was it only a matter of personal glory or fame?  Furthermore, the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim suggests that the usage of “Charon Af” in the context of angering God is reserved for instances of people committing idolatry.  Among other questions, the Ramban (Parshas Yisro) challenges this assertion from this Pasuk of God becoming angry with Moshe, where the term “Charon Af” is used, even though this is clearly not an instance of idolatry. 


When Aron goes out to greet Moshe after this episode, the Torah says: “He met him at the mountain and he kissed him.”  Expounding on the words “met” and “kissed”,the Midrash references a Pasuk in Tehillim 85: “Kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.”  The Misrash continues to explain that Aron and Moshe embodied the values of peace and truth, as Aron was a man of kindness and peace and Moshe was a man of truth and righteousness.  Aron is kindness, as the Pasuk in V’zos Habrahca says: “Your Urim and Tumim belong to your man of kindness (Aron), and Moshe is truth, as the Pasuk in Behaloscha says: “My servant Moshe is faithful/truthful in my house.”  The Mishna in Avos describes Aron as the “lover of peace, who pursued peace”, echoing the words of the prophet Malachi speaking of Aron: “he walked with me in peace and uprightness”.  The Gemara in Sanhedrin 6b highlights this difference between Moshe and Aron in terms of their perception of the law, as “Moshe said justice should pierce the mountain, (truth should be the absolute variable in judgment), while Aron loved peace.” 


At the conclusion of Yisro’s suggestion that Moshe delegate some of the burdens of judgment on other leaders, he concludes: “and all of the people will return in peace”  Based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin about Moshe’s attitude towards the law, the Netziv suggests that Yisro’s idea not only alleviated some of Moshe’s burden, but also increased peace, because the new judges adopted Aron’s perspective towards the law of initiating themes of compromise and peace.  Instead of court cases being decided with a black and white look of right and wrong, claims and disputes would now be decided with harmony and forgiveness, and the result would be an increase of peace.  According to the Midrash, this “kiss” of Moshe and Aron represents the ideal balance of peace and truth, where the team of Moshe and Aron would together lead the Jewish People. 


Although peace and truth kissed in this moment between Moshe and Aron, the reality is that peace and truth often conflict and one is forced to grapple between these distinct values.  While there is an axiom that one is permitted to lie to protect peace, that axiom is hardly unequivocal in the Halachic sense and is complex in application.  R’ Shimon Shwab suggests that the struggle between peace and truth is found not only when one is forced to choose one and reject the other, but also in terms of approach, method, and priority.  While the ultimate goal is clearly a truthful peace, do we force truth and back it with peace, or use peace as a means to finding truth?  This was the question that was at the root of the sin of the Golden Calf, when Aron had to respond to an angry mob that wanted to worship idolatry.  It was not that Aron was apathetic towards the truth, but rather that he embodied peace over truth in shaping his beliefs that it made more sense to delay the people and validate their requests than to admonish their desires.  Aron was using peace as a means to eventually find truth, but in this circumstance of dealing with the cardinal sin of idolatry, it was a mistake to employ this method.    The importance of the switch between Aron's and Moshe’s positions was that ideally, Aron was mean to serve Moshe, to use peace and compromise to back hard truths, but after Moshe angered God here in Parshas Shemos, their roles were reversed, and now, it was Moshe’s truth that was balancing the dominant theme of peace.  Ideally, the “small issues” that could be decided by the leaders under Moshe would be settled with compromise and peace while the pressing and core issues that reached Moshe’s judgment would be settled with truth, but after the role reversal, it was peace that ended up as the dominant theme to lead the people.  It emerges that the sin of the golden calf was the reality of a nation that was led more by peace than truth, and at the time when Moshe was away on the mountain and unable to provide hard truths, the dominance of peace led to sin.  This explains why the term of “Charon Af” here in Parshas Shemos fits with the Rambam’s rule that “charon af” is reserved for sins of idolatry, because the ramifications of this role reversal were actualized in the golden calf.

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781