There are many intriguing facets of Moshe’s life story. Our earliest introduction is his being sent away by his biological family. Not much later, we read about him fleeing his adopted family. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we find him employed as a shepherd, wandering alone through the wide expanses of Midian, painting a picture of a reclusive, withdrawn personality.
Moshe experiences a radical transformation throughout his storyline: moving from the Palace of Pharaoh to the Palace of God; standing in a desert staring at a flock of sheep, to standing on top of Har Sinai staring at his new flock, B’nai Yisrael. The first steps of Moshe’s journey begin with his reuniting with his long-lost brother, Aharon. Shortly after Moshe is charged with his task, Aharon is appointed to be Moshe’s spokesperson, and together, the brothers prepare the Israelites, and confront Pharaoh.
I would like to raise two questions at this point: with the understanding that Aharon is, ostensibly, speaking in lieu of Moshe, why is Aharon’s presence often emphasized when God is commanding the brothers to perform the makkot, but is omitted from the text when Moshe is being commanded to “speak with Pharaoh.”
Secondly, why is Moshe told to stress that Hashem is the “God of the Israelites,” when demanding the people’s freedom? Wouldn’t a stronger demand be: “God is GOD – everyone’s god – including you, Pharaoh, so it might be a good idea to listen!”
Forming a Community to Approach God
I believe an answer to these two questions lies in recognizing the importance of the reunion between Moshe and Aharon. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik discussed the dynamic of Jews coming together as a community, and this Community coming together to approach God. This idea underscores many of his views of prayer, as well aspects of the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim leading to Matan Torah, and exemplified by Kiddush Hachodesh. The Exodus from Egypt is the pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people; it is recounted and reintroduced by various nevi’im throughout the Tanach. What was it about this process that it became so paramount, so integral to our Jewish identity?
Moshe’s task was not just to convince Pharaoh to “let the Israelites go;” it was to bring the Israelites to a place where they could form the requisite bonds with one another. They needed to be transformed from a collection of self-interested slaves (as demonstrated by the Jew reporting on Moshe), to a community that comes together, especially when facing God (as epitomized by the Korban Pesach. It was necessary for them to go from being members of the 12 tribes who (more or less) came down to Egypt together, to בני ישראל; the Jewish nation.
But, as with any grand endeavor; it started with a smaller one. Moshe and his brother first had to reunite. Yes, ultimately Moshe is the hero of the story, but when we see God outstretching his hand in miraculous ways, it often bears repeating that he was acting through the outstretched hands of both Moshe and Aaron; this proto-community.
Today, we can understand the emphasis of God as the God of the Jewish Nation. We can choose to not read this as “the JEWISH Nation”, but as “the Jewish NATION”. Until now, God has been the God of individuals, the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. One might be inclined to believe that this trend was perpetuated by God’s isolated appearance to Moshe. This is not the case: in Sefer Shemot, man’s relationship with God transitions from exclusively personal to both personal and communal. Moshe and Aharon demonstrate that to effect change within a group, regardless of if that change is natural or supernatural, the first and more critical element is that group coming together as a unit; as a community.
Especially at a time like this when we so clearly see how the Jewish Nation is connected beyond any national boundaries, it is critical to recognize that we must be united as a community. That is a huge undertaking, but, as Moshe teaches us, all large endeavors start with small ones. Let us reach out to those we normally wouldn’t, be open to discussing the issues we generally shy away from, and chose to focus on what unites us rather then what divides us.
Rav Josh Berman, one of the younger members of Beit Hillel, was ordained by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 2014. Upon his discharge from the IDF in 2011, Rav Berman continued his studies in Yeshivat Har Etzion and gave a weekly shiur on the Sefer HaChinuch for Lone Soldiers in Jerusalem. Married with two children and residing in Alon Shevut, he works as a software developer and teaches a bi-weekly chaburah to Yeshivat Har Etzion students on topics in Contemporary Halacha.
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