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Parshat Vaera 2019Every Don Quixote has his Sancho Panza. Every Laurel has his Hardy. Every Moshe has his Aharon. The question with Moshe and Aharon is not what Aharon’s role is – we know it is to be Moshe’s mouthpiece – but why. And what we can learn from their symbiosis. x
The answer to the question of why Aharon is there with Moshe seems obvious. Moshe keeps saying he is “heavy-mouthed and heavy-tongued”, which can be interpreted in many different ways. Hazal offer a number of stories to explain his speech impediment, the most famous of them being that when Moshe was but a young boy playing in the palace, the angel Gabriel led him to take a hot coal and put it in his mouth.
But as Rachel Farbiarz points out, the only one who seems to notice Moshe’ s impediment is Moshe himself. Of course God never makes mention of it. Nor does Aharon or Pharaoh or Yitro or anyone else he meets.
Could it be, therefore, that Moshe’s perceived impediment is only in his head and that his speech is perfectly understandable to everyone else? Is it possible that his heavy-tongued condition is more like social shyness which makes it difficult for him to interact with other people? He’s fine for shepherding, where the only response he ever gets from his flock is a “baaaa” here and a “baaaa” there.
There’s another option. Rabbi Neal Loevinger cites Nachum Sarna’s comments on Moshe’s impediment. Sarna says that Moshe’s heavy-tongue may have been the inability to speak the Egyptian language fluently. True, he had been brought up in Egypt, in the palace. But he has spent years and years in Midian, tending sheep, where the lingua franca is not Egyptian. So Moshe felt inadequate to conduct high level negotiations in what was for him a rusty language.
But according to Sarna, the real or imagined or perceived reason for Moshe’s speech impediment is ultimately unimportant, because the prophet is merely the messenger and what counts is the message. If the messenger were the important element, a golden-tongued con man would make the best spokesperson because of his fluency and ability to go with the flow. So his moral fiber would impinge on the message. A small price to pay for fluency.
Ultimately the words that are spoken by the prophet are what count. They are God’s words, and the message is supposed to overcome all corporeal limitations.
That, of course, is the ideal. Think of the great prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. We don’t know what they sounded like – but if we ever imagine them speaking, it would never be in a high pitched or nasal voice.
In contrast, in our media-oriented world, the package plays an important role in determining how the contents are received. As a politically incorrect example we can cite Yitzhak Herzog. Disregarding his political position, how many people thought less of his message because of his voice?
But let’s get back to Aharon. He may be necessary as a mouthpiece because Moshe has an impediment, or because Moshe feels inadequate in speaking Egyptian. But Aharon may serve another purpose as well. He is the bridge between the Israelite slaves in Egypt, and Moshe the Egyptian who grew up in luxury.
True, Moshe was nursed by his mother among the Israelites but from a very young age he was, possibly, a palace brat. This was his frame of reference.
It is possible to argue that he kept his Hebrew identity during that time. After all, we read last week that Moshe went out to his brethren and saw their suffering. He had compassion for them. But does that mean he closely identified with the Hebrews? Possibly but not necessarily.
Most of us feel for people we see who are suffering. But we almost certainly don’t know their day to day misery. Did Moshe know what their daily routine was? Perhaps he kept up with what was happening outside the palace, or perhaps he didn’t – we don’t know.
Whatever the case, having lived in Midian, Moshe was far removed from the daily grind of the Israelites in Egypt. He could speak to them but not with them. That’s where Aharon came in. He lived in Egypt. As a Levite, who may have had a special status, he may not have done the backbreaking work (and he was 80 years old), but he was one of them. In this way, he supplemented Moshe’s God-inspired rhetoric, by speaking with the people in a language they could understand.
As Frank Loesser put it succinctly in the opening sequence of his musical, The Music Man, back in the late 1950s: You’ve got to know the territory.
Aharon plays another role that will become apparent later on. He is the softer forgiving side that Moshe lacks. Whether it was his personality or because he was dealing with God, Moshe saw things in black and white terms, which left no room for the flexibility that is sometimes necessary. Aharon provided that, and for this was beloved by the people.
Each person has his role, his strong points and his weak points. When we as a people can work together so that our various strong points can be recruited and galvanized for the overall good, we as a people will be strong. Let’s hope that our leaders, in all fields, can overcome their sometimes inflated egos and allow us to benefit from what everyone has to contribute.