Yom Sheini, 22 Tishri 5780
Shemini Azeret Monday, 21 October 2019
Parashat Shemot 2013

Parashat Shemot
Rabbi Harry Jacobi

4 January 2013

In our Sidra SHEMOT, the beginning of Exodus, we meet Moses and Aaron.

Let us first look at Moses. Ask any child: Who was Moses? None would come up with the answer: He was a Navi – a prophet. At the end of Deuteronomy· (34,10) “There has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses.” Re-iterated in the famous Yigdal hymn. Moses and all the other prophets show certain characteristics. They are men of absolute truth. They perceive it, proclaim it and defend it without regard to personal feelings, predispositions or consequences. They feel compelled to proclaim it. There can be no other. They are idealists and extremists. They allow no deviation, brook no compromise. They will not let anything stand in the way of absolute justice. No sentiment, no pity, no personal feelings. They will engender feelings of awe and fear, but not of love and affection. These were precisely the feelings of the children of Israel towards Moses. They stood in awe of him, aloof from him, did not love nor respect him, wanted to replace him and at one time even to stone him to death! The fate of such men, as shown more dramatically and clearly by the Prophet Jeremiah later on, is to be one of suffering and unhappiness, of being shunned and feared.

Let us now look at Aaron, the brother. He was anointed by Moses as the first Cohen – the priest, who became the prototype of the priesthood. His first role in the Bible was one of intermediary and interpreter. Then he quickly learned how to adapt, to appease, to compromise. He might well disapprove of what the people do, as when they worshipped the golden calf, but he searches for and finds ways to avoid conflict and confrontation for the sake of peace in the community, He understands and sympathises with the people. He is therefore popular and respected by all. This is clearly shown after his death. “All the children wept after his death thirty days.” Whereas after Moses’s death it is recorded: ”Israel wept for Moses thirty days.” The word ‘all is omitted in Moses’s·case, indicating not all mourned his death, some were relieved perhaps even glad at his demise.

Achad Ha-am, the great philosopher, summed up the characteristics of prophet and priest . The prophet he said, is a baal-zar echad who always does ‘ma· zarich liyot.’ what has to be done, he walks a straight, narrow correct path, a path of truth and justice, whose demands must be met whatever the consequences. The priest, according to Achad Ha-am, is a man who always does ‘ma efshar liyot’ what can be done under the circumstances, finding ways leading to harmony, unity and peace.

The two· characteristics of prophet and priest, of our first two leaders Moses· and Aaron, are to be found in each one of us. We know we would like to be, and ought to be, like Moses knowing always what is right and what is wrong, being an idealist and visionary, recognising absolute truth and justice, demanding them without fear or favour from ourselves and from others, being unswerving, uncompromising and outspoken, whatever the consequences. We would always have a clear conscience, but the price we would pay, like Moses, would be being unpopular, shunned, disliked, even hated. We woud lead a lonely and unhappy life. So most of us end up like Aaron overcoming our hesitations, compromising our principles and scruples, appeasing the dictates of our conscience to preserve the unity harmony and peace among our near and dear ones, our circle of friends and communities. Wisely the Torah commands: “You shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a Holy nation." (Exodus 19,6) Of priests, nota bene, not of prophets, be like Aaron, not like Moses. True, every nation and age needs its prophets, idealists, visionaries, fighters for truth and justice. But the majority should, and will always be, priests willing and ready to promote unity, harmony and peace.

Hillel was right and wise to call upon us: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace, and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and drawing them near to the Torah.” (Sayings of the Fathers, 1,12)