Torah Portion of the Week—Tetzaveh/Zachor

It is fascinating to note that from the time that the name of Moses is first mentioned in Exodus 2, through the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the name of Moses appears in every single Torah portion with the exception of portion Tetzaveh.

Following the opening verses of parashat Tetzaveh, God speaks to Moses [of course not by name] saying in Exodus 28:1: וְאַתָּה הַקְרֵב אֵלֶיךָ אֶת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי You [Moses] should bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the Children of Israel, to minister to Me. The Torah then lists Aaron’s sons: Nadav, Abihu, Elazar and Itamar.

From the beginning of the Torah, until the book of Exodus, the relationship between brothers is notoriously unsuccessful. Cain kills his brother, Abel. Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, are in relationships that can best be described as dysfunctional, if not worse.

Even though it takes place during the most trying times of enslavement in Egypt, with the book of Exodus, a new chapter of brotherhood dawns.

According to the Biblical account, it is very likely that Aaron never really had a chance to bond with his younger brother, Moses. Because of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all of the male children by throwing them into the river, Moses was hidden as an infant. Once he was brought to his mother, Yocheved, at the behest of Pharaoh’s daughter, to serve as his nursemaid, we have no idea how long she was able to keep Moses at home. Apparently, not very long, because shortly after Moses was weaned, he went to live in Pharaoh’s palace. According to the Midrash, at age twenty, Moses had to flee for his life from Pharaoh, and remained in Midian for sixty years.

After God appears to Moses at the Burning Bush and designates him to be the redeemer of Israel, God encourages Moses by assuring him that despite this long separation from his family, he will be warmly welcomed when he returns to Egypt. In Exodus 4:14, the Almighty reassures Moses הֲלֹא אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ הַלֵּוִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא, וְגַם הִנֵּה הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ, וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak; moreover behold he is going out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.

The toxic relationship that characterized Joseph and his brothers, the envy, the jealousy and murderous thoughts, is nowhere to be found in the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Despite being the older brother, Aaron does not appear to be at all threatened or jealous of Moses, who has been chosen by God to serve as the primary leader of Israel. Aaron could have justifiably said to himself, “Not only am I older, I have been with the people and have observed the travails of the people for the last sixty years, while he [Moses] was away, writing poetry and shepherding in Midian. My brother Moses never even lived as a Jew among the Jews, how can he possibly lead the people? I am far more appropriate to lead, and more worthy. Besides, I have a much more suitable personality for leadership. People love me and trust me. Moses is an unknown.”

This then is the meaning of the verse, “Bring near to yourself Aaron, your brother and his sons with him.” Step aside from the limelight, Moses; let your brother Aaron takes center stage. Allow him to emphasize the talents that he has, and that you lack. Do not feel threatened.

Of course, there are some “hiccups” in the relationship along the way. Moses lashes out at Aaron (Exodus 32:21) when he suspects that he was not firm enough with the people, allowing them to create a Golden Calf. Apparently, Aaron is forgiven for that, by both Moses and God. Aaron speaks out against Moses (Numbers 12:1) for taking a Cushite woman, and although Aaron is not personally punished, he sees his beloved sister, Miriam, suffer, which may be more painful than his own physical suffering. Shabbat Shalom