Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, as presented in Rabbi Avishai David, Darosh Darash Yosef, Masei: Two Paradigms of Rabbinic Leadership, uses the reference to Aharon’s death in the parsha1 as an opportunity to consider the distinction between Aharon and Moshe in each one’s manner of leadership. This distinction is actually well-noted throughout the Torah literature. Moshe Rabbeinu’s focus was din, justice. Aharon’s focus was chesed, usually translated as loving kindness. It was Moshe who is perceived to have been strict with the people, continuously demanding of them to meet the standards that God set for them. It was Aharon who is perceived to have been more conciliatory in his relationship with the people, always attempting to maintain peace and good relations. The result was that the people had more positive feelings towards Aharon than towards Moshe.2 What the Rav, though, adds to this general understanding was a projection of the perception that each of these great leaders of our people had of each other. He contends that Moshe was concerned that he did not fulfill his responsibilities as leader as well as he should have, as evidenced by the greater affection of the people towards his brother. Aharon, on the other hand, was concerned that he did not fulfill his responsibilities as he should have, as evidenced by the very fact that he was, in distinction from his brother, so well liked. The eventual result was that God informed each of them that they both fulfilled their roles equally successfully.3
The fact that both Moshe and Aharon, although they adopted different – even opposite – styles and methodologies, are both equally praised is a clear indication of the non-dogmatic nature of Torah. While still clearly also setting parameters, there is a clear indication from the Torah that there may be more than one solution to a problem or more than one way to meet an objective. Choosing the right path for an individual clearly is, and must be, dependent on the individual’s specific personality. Moshe and Aharon were two different people and the expression of each one’s leadership had to reflect their particular being – and so each one met their leadership responsibilities differently, in line with who they were. Yet it must still also be recognized that the acceptance of different forms of leadership does not imply that each form, even if honest to the person and undertaken with the most sincere of commitments, will be equal in their results. Aharon was more loved by the people. He could accomplish things that Moshe could not; just as Moshe could accomplish things that Aharon could not. Leadership is not monolithic. Different personalities yield different types of leaders. Different needs of the populace also demand different types of leaders. It is not surprising that in the history of the Jewish People, the nation usually had more than one leader, just as was the case for the generation of the desert who were led by both Moshe and Aharon.4 There are different needs within a population and thus different demands on their leadership. These divergent requirements usually necessitate the leadership of more than one personality. Any leader, to be effective, must fulfill his/her role in a manner that is in line with his/her being; no one person can fulfill all the divergent requirements of leadership.5
Nevertheless, a leader also cannot rely upon personality as an excuse for the inability to meet a goal. Moshe was concerned about not being as loved as Aharon. He also wished to promote peace and affection amongst the people. He did not use his personality as an excuse for not meeting these leadership objectives as he met other leadership objectives. Aharon, similarly, was concerned about being, unlike his brother, so well-loved. Was this the result of him not being as strict with the people as he should have been? Was their affection a result of his laxity in admonishing them? He also wished to promote strong adherence to mitzvot. In the end, God informed both of them that they were personally successful, that they both expressed their leadership in the best possible manner for their personalities. Until God told them this, though, they were continuously concerned that, perhaps, their lack of accomplishment in a certain area was their fault. Perhaps, they wondered, there was a way for them to accomplish this other goal even within the parameters of their personality and, thus, they were responsible for their failings. This question is actually their further lesson to us. Given that God does not tell us that we are doing the best that we can given our personalities, we must continuously question ourselves and wonder whether we are doing all we can even given our personalities.
What is perhaps most significant about the leadership roles of Moshe and Aharon is their dialectic nature. It is difficult to promote discipline and affection at the same time. It would be understandable to have two leaders, one to promote one value and the other to promote the other value. The end result would reflect a dialectic tension of discipline and affection, an achievement that could only be reached through the external force of each value independently. We can, thus, understand the need for both, each one with his own particular focus emerging from his personality. Moshe and Aharon, though, did not see it this way. They wanted to personally accomplish the dialectic within their own being. Moshe, while successful in promoting discipline, also wanted to promote peace. Aharon, while successful in promoting affection, also wanted to promote full adherence to standards. While the inherent nature of their personalities led them to promote the value that they did, they understood the value of the other.
This, in fact, may be why they were ultimately successful. Personality was not going to be used by them as an excuse for not meeting the desired objective even as this goal reflected a conflicting dialectic. This only led them to further understand and appreciate the role of the other.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 Bamidbar 33:38,39.
2 See, for example, Rashi, Devarim 34:8.
3 The Rav derives this from his analysis of the baraita about the anointing oil in Aharon’s beard found in T.B. Keritot 5b.
4 Of course this is not to say that only Moshe and Aharon were the leaders of that generation. T.B. Ta’anit 9b clearly, for example, refers to Miriam as the third leader of this generation. When one considers the many other individuals in the Torah who assumed leadership or quasi-leadership roles, the recognition of the significance of the connection between one’s personality and one’s Torah expression and being is only intensified.
5 Of course, even amongst this diversity of leadership, there was usually one person who was identified as the supreme leader. While Aharon was a leader of the nation, there is no doubt that Moshe was the one leader above the others. This raises the question of what makes someone a leader of this nature. The answer for every generation may be different but it is clear that this form of leadership cannot be of an autocratic nature that does not recognize and give voice to other forms of leadership. It may be that the role of a supreme leader of the Jewish People parallels the role of a conductor of an orchestra. The strength is in the ability to co-ordinate the others, not in one’s particular ability with any one instrument. In fact, in regard to any one of the instruments, the conductor most likely is not as accomplished as the one actually chosen to play the instrument in the orchestra.
© Nishma 2011
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© 2010 NISHMA