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Parashat Tetzaveh: Moses, Aaron, and the Power of Unity

Parashat Tetzaveh is the only one in the entire book of Exodus in which the name of Moses does not appear. It is the portion in which a very detailed description is given of all the garments that the High Priest will have to wear. And who was the first High Priest, the first Cohen Gadol? Precisely Moses' brother, Aaron. It's as if Moses or the Torah itself removes him from this part of the story to give Aaron a place. Inevitably, this sibling relationship brings to mind all the sibling relationships that have occurred so far in the Torah.


Throughout Genesis, we had very conflicted relationships, starting with Cain and Abel, which ended tragically, followed by Isaac and Ishmael, who only meet again when burying their father Isaac. Obviously, we have Jacob and Esau, who after the enmity due to the deception of the younger brother regarding the birthright, meet in an embrace and somehow reconcile after years of enmity or fears. Of course, we must mention Joseph and his estranged brothers, who went as far as selling him into slavery.


Moses and Aaron are the first siblings who get along well, the first siblings who respect each other's positions. It all began with the episode of the burning bush when the Lord asked Moses to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery, he responded, "Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” And the Lord's anger burned against Moses and said, "What about your brother, Aaron, the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you to speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you; he will be your spokesman, and you will be his guide." (Exodus 4:13-16)


I want to emphasize the part where it says, "Here comes your brother, waiting for you and will receive you with joy."


The older brother, Aaron, is receiving his younger brother who will be the leader of the people. It won't be him, the elder, who will guide the People of Israel. It's a significant resignation, and we know in any sibling structure, the older one makes room for the younger one's leadership. It tends to be a problem, and it wasn't here.


That bond continued throughout their entire lives as brothers. It was a very important example of leadership in which each one stepped aside a little to make room and share the privileged place they both had.


Moses and Aaron precisely supported each other. Even with all the enormous protagonism that Moses has throughout the Torah, this chapter, this portion, describes all the greatness, all the solemnity, of everything that the High Priest Aaron would wear.

If Moses had appeared during the narrative of this chapter, he could have overshadowed it. He probably would have taken away some of the spotlight from Aaron, who the People of Israel should see with all the solemnity of his garments as the High Priest he was. Instead, what the Torah did was set Moses aside, telling him to "step aside".


However, this sibling relationship has peculiarities since their births. The text says:

"Amram married his father's sister Yocheved, who conceived Aaron and Moses. Amram lived for 137 years... These same Aaron and Moses, to whom the Lord said, 'Take the Israelites out of Egypt in their divisions.' They were the ones who spoke with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Israelites out of Egypt. They were these same Moses and Aaron." (Exodus 6: 20, 26-27)


Why the repeated phrase "they are the same"?

There are two peculiarities in the phrases. The first is that the order of the brothers' names is different: the first says "Aaron and Moses" and the second, "Moses and Aaron." Even more striking is the grammatical rarity of the phrase. In both cases, the third person singular is used, literally it reads: "he was Aaron and Moses," "he was Moses and Aaron."

The text should have said "they" - even more so when the pronoun "they" was in the middle of the sentence: "They were the ones who spoke with Pharaoh." The undeniable inference is that they were like a single individual; they were one. There was no hierarchy between them: sometimes Aaron's name appears first, other times Moses'.


It was precisely the fact that Aaron did not envy his younger brother but rejoiced in his greatness that made him deserving of being the High Priest. And so it happened that just as Aaron made room for his younger brother to lead, so did the Torah make room for Aaron to lead. That is why Aaron is the hero of Tetzaveh, not overshadowed by Moses for once.


Perhaps it is time to say that we are simply siblings and that each one makes room for the other to do what they have to do while each one does their part. That we can say, as Abraham said to Lot, if you go to the right, I will go to the left, there is room for everyone. Hopefully, we can achieve it.


It is also part of achieving a global Tikun Olam.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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