Mordechai Silverstein

I and Thou

When God charged Moshe to attire his brother, Aharon, with the special garments of the Kohen Hagadol (the High Priest), it was a clear indication of the distinctive roles these two leaders would play:

You shall bring forward your brother, Aharon with his sons, from among the children of Israel to serve me as priests… Make sacral vestments for your brother Aharon, for dignity and adornment… These are the vestments they are to make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress and a sash. (Exodus 28:1-4)

This grand ceremonial gesture, which seemed idyllic, masked what under normal circumstances could have had the potential for being an area of conflict between the two brothers, each one vying for the more significant role. Ramban’s (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, Spain 13th century) description of the high priest’s garments underlines why there might be room for conflict:

[The High Priests were] to be dignified and ornate [by wearing] dignified and ornate clothing… for these [sorts of] garments were the garments of kings in the days of the Torah.

The fact that these garments represented “royalty” had the potential to cause friction between the two brothers. This idea likely inspired the following midrash describing the harmonious relationship which reigned between Moshe and his older brother, Aharon:

From where [do we learn] that Aharon rejoiced at Moshe’s prominence? As it says: “Even now he is setting out to meet you and he will rejoice in his heart” (Exodus 4:14). Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai taught [in a baraita]: The heart that rejoiced at his brother Moshe’s prominence will wear the Urim and the Tumim, as it is written: “And you shall put the Urim and the Tumim (instruments of prophecy) in the breastplate of judgment so that they are over Aharon’s heart” (Exodus 28:30).

[Similarly,] from where [do we learn] that Moshe rejoiced at Aaron’s prominence? As it is stated: “It is like fine oil on the head, running down onto the beard, the beard of Aharon” (Psalms 133:2). Said Rabbi Aḥa: Did Aaron have two beards, as it is written: “Running down onto the beard, the beard of Aaron”? Rather, Moshe saw the anointing oil running down onto the beard of Aharon, for him it was as if it [also ran down onto Moshe’s beard, and [so] he rejoiced; therefore, as Scripture says: “Onto the beard, the beard of Aaron.” (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:10)

The harmony between the two brothers described in this midrash contrasts with the real-life competitive nature of human beings. One only has to look to the full range of antagonistic relationships in the political realm these days, which render our governments dysfunctional and incapable of dealing with the problems confronting us. Perhaps it is time for the relationship between Moshe and Aharon to serve as our guide.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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