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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe said to Aharon: come near the Altarů then perform the service of the people's offering and provide atonement for them. (9:7)

Moshe Rabbeinu calls to his brother, Aharon, designating him to be the Kohen Gadol who is to offer the sacrifices and perform the Divine service in the Sanctuary. Rashi cites the Midrash, which quotes a compelling statement Moshe made regarding his brother, Aharon: "Aharon, my brother, is more worthy and important than I, for through his offerings and his service will the Divine Presence rest upon the people." This is a striking statement. Is it possible that Aharon had achieved greater stature than Moshe? Was Moshe not the most outstanding individual that has ever lived?

The Torah makes two statements concerning Moshe's supremacy, which clearly excluded everyone else: "A prophet will not arise like Moshe, who knew G-d face to face" (Devarim 34:10). "The man Moshe was the most humble of all men upon the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). Apparently, Moshe superseded Aharon in every respect, from prophecy to humility. Nonetheless, in his commentary to Sefer Shemos 6:26, Rashi writes, "There are some instances where Aharon is mentioned prior to Moshe, and others where Moshe is mentioned prior to Aharon. This teaches that they were equal." Rashi means that concerning the Exodus and in terms of being agents of Hashem they had equal status, but clearly, regarding their innate abilities and qualities, Moshe was superior to Aharon.

In an alternative exposition, the Shem MiShmuel suggests that the equality between Moshe and Aharon that Rashi suggests refers to the circumstances prior to the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah. After these seminal events, however, Moshe emerged as an entirely different person on an unparalleled plateau. This was a consequence of his direct contact with the Almighty which catapulted him into an unprecedented spiritual realm. Indeed, the Yalkut Shimoni writes that Moshe was like G-d from the waist up and like man from the waist down. Because he had experienced the Divine, Moshe was unlike any other human - even Aharon. We once again revert to our original question: How could Aharon be considered more worthy than Moshe at the inauguration of the Mishkan?

Furthermore, Chazal teach us that Moshe and Aharon's humility surpassed even that of Avraham Avinu. He said, "I am but dust and ashes" (Bereishis 18:27), while they went so far as to say, "What are we?" (Shemos 16:8). How could Moshe's level of humility hace exceeded even that of Aharon? Aharon answered that he was nothing. How could Moshe have been more humble than that? How could he have been less than nothing?

The Avnei Nezer distinguishes between two forms of humility of which Moshe and Aharon each espoused a different form. One can live a life of humility with the feeling that he is insignificant. In another type of humility the individual recognizes his capabilities, his lofty achievements and exemplary spiritual plateau. Yet, in comparison with the unfathomable greatness of Hashem, he realizes that he is infinitely inconsequential. This second variety of humility is an attribute from which the greatest men on earth can benefit, for the only true existence is that of the Almighty; the only true reality is that of Him.

We now understand what motivated Moshe's sense of humility. Moshe was the greatest person, the consummate human being, the quintessential leader and teacher of the Jewish People. Certainly, he was aware of his significance, his distinction, his exalted position. How could he possibly have retained his humility in light of this awareness?

Apparently, Moshe knew who he was and the outstanding role in which he functioned, but -- specifically because of his closeness to Hashem, Who would always be infinitesimally greater -- he felt insignificant. Moshe understood that he could never achieve even a minute fraction of Hashem's greatness. Indeed, as is quoted in Avos D'Rabbi Nassan 9, "Moshe was the humblest of all men, but not of the ministering angels, who were even more humble than he." The higher one is, the closer to Hashem he becomes, the less he thinks of himself, because he sees that in comparison to the Almighty, he is nothing. Moshe maintained his humility because he always kept the majesty of Hashem on his mind.

Aharon was quite different. His humility was more of a direct nature. He really believed himself to be insignificant and unworthy of any distinction. His role in the sin of the Golden Calf never left his mind. This incident perpetuated his lowly self-image to the point that he perceived the Altar to be in the shape of a bull due to its protracted "horns." In his mind, he had sinned and he could not erase that reality. He felt that as a result of his part in the eigal, he would be deficient in achieving atonement for the Jewish People at the Altar.

Two brothers reflected two types of humility: Both had said, "What are we?" This is where, however, the similarity between them ends. Moshe achieved humility with respect to Hashem. Aharon felt that he was intrinsically worthless.

When the Torah describes Moshe as the humblest of men, it refers to his ability to achieve humility in an unparalleled manner, particularly in relation to Hashem. This was an unprecedented form of humility. In this respect, Moshe was greater than Aharon, who did not have the opportunity to develop such a connection with the Almighty, and, hence, could not perceive this form of self-assessment. On the other hand, in his own way, Aharon was as great as Moshe -- and perhaps even greater than he -- in the way that he was able to view his own deficiencies and the compelling impact they had on his total demeanor.

And they (Nadav and Avihu) brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them. A fire came out from before Hashem and consumed them. (10:1,2)

Rashi cites Chazal who say that Nadav and Avihu perished because they rendered a halachic decision in the presence of their rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu. Others cite Chazal who relate that Nadav would say to Avihu, "When will those two elders (referring to Moshe and Aharon) pass on, and you and I will lead the generation?" These statements are certainly true, but they apparently are not consistent with the Torah's description of their sin. The Torah clearly states that they perished as a result of offering an alien fire which Hashem had not commanded them to bring. Why do Chazal cite different reasons? Furthermore, is it possible that Nadav and Avihu, who were both righteous individuals to the point that Moshe attested to their superseding even himself and Aharon in greatness, could be guilty of such sinful behavior?

Horav Reuven Elbaz, Shlita, explains that, indeed, their sin was eish zarah, offering an alien fire. Everything else which Chazal cited were outgrowths, ramifications of this sin. Alien fire is a reference to intense fiery passion and fervor in serving Hashem. They went, so to speak, overboard, beyond the limits. Nadav and Avihu went too far, such that they overstepped the perimeters of religious observance. Their extremism caused them not to marry, because they wanted to pour out all of their love to the Almighty. There was not enough room in their hearts to share this love with a wife and children. This brought them to drink wine in order to increase and heighten their sense of joy, and this intensity brought them to rule in the presence of their rebbe, Moshe. In other words, they became carried away, and this led to a number of egregious errors.

Thus, while they questioned, "When will those two elders pass on?" they were not speaking from a malevolent heart. There was nothing evil about them in any way. They simply could not tolerate Moshe and Aharon's passivity with regard to the people. They complained that the nation was rude, the people were disrespectful. Yet, Moshe and Aharon responded, V'nachnu mah, "(and) What are we?" Their incredible humility and their outstanding sense of self-effacement were too much for Nadav and Avihu. They wanted action. This was not the way a strong leader should respond. The people had gross chutzpah and should, therefore, be punished. A leader must be strong. A leader must not tolerate any form of infraction. Nadav and Avihu's attitude towards leadership was unlike that of Moshe and Aharon. A leader must lead - not follow. A leader must be strong and dynamic - not obsequious. The members of the nation who had complained needed to be dealt with immediately. One does not complain.

Hashem did not agree with Nadav and Avihu. The only way to lead is with love and tolerance, patience and sensitivity. Humility is to be the guiding force, the moral compass by which one leads, inspires and achieves an enduring legacy.

Moshe heard and approved. (10:20)

On that auspicious-- but fateful day-- three he-goats were offered as Sin-offerings. One was the special offering of Nachshon ben Aminadav, the Nasi, Prince, of Shevet Yehudah. The second offering was in honor of the Chanukas, Inauguration, of the Mishkan. These two were considered kodoshei shaah, holy for the current time, since they would never again be offered. The third sacrifice was the Korban Rosh Chodesh, in honor of the new moon. Prior to this, Moshe Rabbeinu had instructed the Kohanim to eat the Meal-offerings, which were kodoshei shaah. The Kohanim did this. This was an exception to the rule of mourning in which an onen, mourner prior to the burial of the deceased, may not eat of the offerings. The question confronting Aharon and his sons was: Does Moshe's command regarding the Korban Minchah, Meal-offering, apply to the meat of the Sin-offerings as well? Furthermore, if, in fact, it did apply, did it apply to all three of the offerings?

Hashem did command the Kohanim to eat, even during their status as onenim. It was now up to Moshe and/or Aharon to determine if this command applied under all circumstances. Moshe was of the opinion that the command was unequivocal and should apply to all sacrifices, even the Korban Rosh Chodesh, which was kodesh l'doros, holy for all the generations. Aharon, however, felt that since the direct command was initially made concerning the Meal-offerings, which are kodoshei shaah, only the first two sacrifices, that of Nachshon and the Inauguration of the Mishkan, were to be eaten. The Korban Rosh Chodesh was kodesh forever. It, therefore, should not be eaten during animus, the period of mourning.

The Kohanim burnt the he-goat which was designated for Rosh Chodesh, because they felt that as a kodoshei doros, it was not to be eaten. Moshe became angry with them. Chazal tell us that since Moshe became angry, he erred in the halachah. Aharon was actually correct in his p'sak, determination of the law. Aharon's sons did not respond to Moshe, as it would have been disrespectful to speak up in their father's presence. Aharon explained the halachah to Moshe, who conceded that he had erred.

Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrated his true humility, as well as the reason that he was selected to be Klal Yisrael's quintessential leader. His humility was the essence of his greatness. Rather than defend his position, he realized his error and conceded to Aharon. This is the mark of a true gadol, great Torah leader.

Horav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zl, was an individual of such strength of character. Whenever he was in a dispute with another individual regarding a Torah law or logic, he never insisted that he was right. Rather, he would say, Efsher zeit ihr gerecht, "Perhaps you are correct!" He never insisted that he was correct. He always looked for a way to validate the other person's point of view. This applied even when the other point of view was that of a young man, many years his junior. Once, as he was giving a shiur, Torah lecture, one that he had prepared and worked on for quite some time, a bachur, student, asked a compelling question. Rav Isser Zalman said, "This young man has asked a very good question. He is correct in his understanding of the subject. I have no more to say." With that, he closed his Gemorah, volume of Talmud, and bid everyone a good day.

Moshe could have told Aharon that he had never heard the halachah. Instead, he said, Shomaati v'shochachti, "I heard, but I forgot." Furthermore, he publicized his error throughout the camp, telling everyone that he had erred and his brother had been right.

The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, explain that the greatest deterrent which prevents the individual from being modeh al ha'emes, conceding to the truth, is the loud voice and screaming associated with presenting his point of view in a dispute. All of the screaming backs the individual into a corner from which he cannot retreat. It is very difficult to concede an error after one has just loudly vocalized his position. It is more embarrassing and degrading than people can tolerate. Moshe Rabbeinu was not "most people." This is why he was selected to be our consummate leader.

If people dispute quietly, respectfully, pleasantly, then it is no challenge to concede to an error in judgment. Under such circumstances, when one discovers that he has erred, he is not yet on a high pedestal, elevated by his loud voice. He has spoken quietly, patiently. He is now ready to admit that he has made a mistake.

The individual who loses his cool during a dispute finds it difficult to back down from his position. Chazal teach us that Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel were in dispute for three years, each one claiming that the halachah was as they had stated it. At the end of three years, a Bas Kol, Voice from Heaven, decreed that both the words of Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel were divrei Elokim Chaim, words of the Living G-d. Nonetheless, the halachah concurred with Bais Hillel. Chazal question why the halachah was in agreement with Bais Hillel? They explain that Bais Hillel were people of tolerance and acceptance. Indeed, when they rendered their decision, they would first quote Bais Shamai, followed by their own point of view.

Maharal M'Prague questions the reason for adjudicating in accordance with Bais Hillel simply because they were nochin va'aluvin, easygoing and forebearing. Since when is this a basis for rendering a halachah opinion? The Maharal explains that a person's ability to think cogently coincides directly with his middas ha'savlanus, capacity for tolerance. The thought process of one who possesses a calm and relaxed personality, who is not easily given to anger or to losing his cool, reflects this state of composure. His logic will be clear and astute, not garbled and anxiety-laden. On the other hand, the individual who is ill-tempered and irritable, who quickly resorts to fits of rage--regardless of his acumen, his sagacity notwithstanding-- will err in judgment. It is as if his brain suddenly short circuits. The tools are present, but the wiring is faulty.

Someone who is cool-headed and amicable, who accepts a challenge without falling apart, who is easy-going and of a mild temperament, has an enhanced capacity for judging a situation with greater clarity and objectivity. Bais Hillel exemplified this level of character refinement. We find in Meseches Edyos that Bais Hillel reversed their p'sak, halachic decision, a number of times. Closer to our own times, the Chazon Ish, zl, who was one of the most celebrated and erudite poskim, halachic arbiters, writes: "I am constantly beset with errors. At times, it is in logic or in my understanding of the Talmud. I am not ashamed of this, because there is nothing for which to be ashamed. On the contrary, one who is ashamed demonstrates a lack of respect for the halachah."

Modeh al hae'emes, conceding to the truth, accepting that one is wrong, is especially necessary in one's relationship with students. A rebbe who errs should be able to admit his error, whether it is concerning p'shat, explanation of the subject matter, or regarding an incident in which the rebbe has made the wrong judgment call. It happens, and when it does, one should be big enough to concede his faulty judgment. One who is a modeh al ha'emes earns the respect of his peers and, ultimately, merits their trust.

We allude to this idea in our daily tefillah: L'olam yehei adam yerei Shomayim b'seisar u'vagalui, u'modeh al ha'emes, v'doveir emes bilevavo. "Always should a man fear Heaven, in private and in public, and speak truth within his heart." The Minchas Elazar interprets the word l'olam, always, as meaning l'olam, because of/for the world. This means that his words should be heard and accepted by the world community. This is possible only if he is modeh al ha'emes. It is not enough to speak the truth privately. One must be willing and able to concede the truth publicly, even if it hurts. Then people will respect him and accept what he has to say, l'olam - for the world - and for himself.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yismechu ha'Shomayim v'sagel ha'aretz - The Heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice.

What is the difference between simchah, gladness/joy, and gilah, rejoicing? In his commentary to Divrei Hayamim, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna explains that simchah applies to the joy one manifests over a recent occurrence, something novel that just took place. Gilah, however, is the rejoicing one experiences even for something that has happened a while ago, but still elicits joy for him.

Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei 23:24, Gil yagil avi tzaddik, "The father of a righteous person will be mirthful (gilah)"; v'yoleid chacham yismach bo, "one who begets a wise child will rejoice in him (simchah)." The Gaon explains that a tzaddik remains in his righteous status on a constant basis. Thus, the joy which refers to him is a joy of gilah. The chacham, wise one, is constantly renewing his wisdom as he becomes privy to new lessons. Hence, the word simchah is used regarding his birth.

Shlomo HaMelech says in Koheles 1:9, "There is nothing new beneath the sun." In this world there is nothing new. Hashem has already provided everything. The resources are there, together with the conditions and the concepts all waiting for man's discovery and invention. Above this world, in Heaven, however, there is something new. Therefore, we say, Yismechu haShomayim, "The Heavens will be glad (simchah), and v'sagel ha'aretz, the earth will rejoice (gilah)."

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