Rabbi Jeremy Markiz
When we think about the heroes of the Torah, we could come up with a list. Noah might be on there, Abraham, perhaps Joseph. We would undoubtedly include Moses, likely one of the greatest in the story. We refer to him as Rabbeinu Moshe, our teacher still to this day.
But what about his brother Aaron? How often do we think of him as a hero in our story?
In this week’s portion, Va’era, the Torah does something peculiar — it breaks the fourth wall. The fourth wall is when a character speaks directly to the audience in literature, usually in theater or television.
For example, when Jacob wrestled the angel, the Torah tells us: “That is why the Children of Israel to this day do not eat … ,” to explain the significance of the sciatic nerve. In context, there’s no reason to mention this. This is because the Torah is speaking to us, the readers, about the implication of its text.
In our portion, after God finishes commanding Moses to speak with Pharaoh, the Torah outlines the genealogy of various groups of Israelites descending from Jacob’s children until we get to Levi, when Amram and his sons, Aaron and Moses, are mentioned. Then the Torah says:
“This is the Aaron and Moses whom God said: ‘Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt by their armies. It was they who spoke to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to take the Israelites out from Egypt; these are that Moses and Aaron.” (Exodus 6:26-7)
The Torah is in the middle of telling the story. Why would it interrupt itself to clarify that the characters are the characters? Who is this for?
Tractate Megillah, focusing on the pronoun, interprets the specifics of the language to explain their unceasing righteousness. The Gemara identifies similar language to refer to Abraham’s righteousness and David’s humility.
As much as we like to revere our heroes in Judaism — Abraham, David, Moses and Aaron — none are perfectly righteous; each has complex qualities with which we must grapple.
Rashi and others point out that the names of Moses and Aaron are presented, and then reversed, to explain their equal status. For we might have thought that because Aaron’s name came first, we would consider him the more important of the two.
The Torah stops us by saying, “Yeah, THAT Moses and Aaron,” reminding us to pay attention to their behavior. Lest we become distracted by the plagues about to occur, the Torah aligns us with the human beings involved in the story.
Aaron speaks on behalf of Moses and God, but doesn’t hear what God has to say. He repeatedly fulfills his role without word or complaint throughout their time in Egypt. He is a powerful representation of faith and commitment.
While Moses receives most of the glory, Aaron symbolizes partnership, dedication and patience. It would be easy for us to ignore his role, as God and Moses continually put their words in his mouth. In these ways, he is a model worth emulating.
The Torah doesn’t want us to forget about him — and tells us so.
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher of Torah, writes the With Torah and Love newsletter, and is a consultant based in Silver Spring, Md.