5.14. Moses and Aaron as Exemplars of Brotherhood

Aaron’s most important characteristic is that he rejoices that his younger brother has been chosen to lead the Exodus.

Fraternal relations are extremely complex. At the very dawn of human history, Cain murders his brother Abel. This tragedy was followed by repeated conflicts between brothers: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery, and others. Throughout the history of mankind, fraternal relations have been one of the primary sources of conflict.

Conversely, it is brotherhood, ideally, that should become the foundation of human society, at the individual, national, and global levels. To achieve this, however, the human race, even now, has a very long way to go.

An older child usually finds it quite difficult to have a younger brother. For as long as he can remember he has been the sole object of his parents’ devotion – the entire world revolved only around him. But a new personality suddenly appears on the scene, and he is now no longer the one and only, but merely “one of.” In most cases an older child will experience considerable anxiety in relating to his younger brother.

The essential problem of brotherhood begins with just one simple but nagging question: “Why did you get more than I got?” Brothers also share a common inheritance, which is a major source of envy that can destroy a family, a society, and even a state.

Envy is a truly paradoxical phenomenon. While potentially extremely harmful, envy is at the same time the engine of progress. A man wants to have the same thing the other man has, because he envies him. This is a very powerful motivator. It depends only on us to decide whether we will direct that envy toward good or toward evil.

It is therefore impossible to solve the problem of brotherhood by completely rejecting this feeling of envy, and embracing “altruism” exclusively. Rather, the situation can be resolved only by redirecting the power of envy into constructive channels, by abandoning the drive for equality in favor of complementarity. There is no need to strive for sameness, no need to fret (“Why does he have what I don’t have?”). Brothers must acknowledge that they are simply smaller components of a larger whole, and they must take pleasure and pride in their common achievements. True brotherhood can exist only when brothers feel that together they share a common heritage, and that they complement each other, each contributing to the brotherhood their own unique qualities.

The level of brotherhood just described is the one that Aaron was able to achieve. “He will be happy to see you,” says God to Moses about Aaron (literally, “He will see you and rejoice in his heart”). A sense of complementarity is established between Moses and Aaron, rather than equality. Aaron is quite pleased with this arrangement and accepts Moses’ superiority. Such is the greatness of Aaron. It is what makes it possible for Moses and Aaron to lead the Jews out of Egypt. By rising to the level of true brotherhood, Moses and Aaron have corrected the sin of Cain and Abel.

This feeling of fraternal complementarity derives primarily from a sense of a common mission. For Moses and Aaron, this was the most important thing in their relationship, and it became the foundation for building brotherhood among the entire nation, and later among all of humanity.


Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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