Aaron, the High Priest

Moses's brother helped lead the Israelites to freedom.

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Reprinted with permission from Who's Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).

Aaron, the first High Priest, was the founder and ancestor of the Israelite priesthood. His mother, Jochebed, the Egyptian-born daughter of Levi, married her nephew Amram son of Kohath, and gave birth to three children: Miriam, the eldest; Aaron; and Moses, the youngest, who was born when Aaron was three years old.

The Bible does not say anything about Aaron's birth, his early life, or his upbringing. It states that he married Elisheba daughter of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah, with whom he had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. His brother-in-law, Nahshon, was a direct ancestor of King David.

Aaron is first mentioned in the Bible when God, angry that Moses was reluctant to accept the mission to free the Israelites from the Egyptian oppression, told him that Aaron was a good speaker and that he would be Moses' spokesman.

The Story of Passover

Aaron's eloquent speeches to Pharaoh were reinforced by the miracles that he performed with his walking stick, changing it one time into a serpent and another into blossoms and almonds. Also, by stretching out his walking stick at the request of Moses, he brought on the first three plagues: blood, frogs, and lice; and, in cooperation with Moses, he produced the sixth plague, boils, and the eighth plague, locusts.

It is significant that when he performed his wonders, it was not by virtue of any innate ability or individual initiative but only by divine command, mediated through Moses. The two brothers were already old men--Aaron was 83 years old, and Moses was 80--when Pharaoh finally yielded to their request, and let the Israelites go.

After the march out of Egypt, Aaron was no longer a central figure in the events but only a secondary player at Moses' side. He didn't play any important part in the crossing of the Red Sea, the songs of victory hymns, or the water crisis at Marah. He reappeared later in connection with the incident of the manna.

In the Wilderness

During the battle that the Israelites fought against the Amalekites, Aaron, together with Hur, supported Moses' hands stretched upward to ensure victory. Later, again with Hur, Aaron acted as deputy for Moses when his brother climbed Mount Sinai to receive the two stone tablets of the Law.

During Moses' prolonged absence on the mountain, Aaron yielded to the pressure of the people and made with their jewelry a golden calf that became a cause of apostasy. Despite his involvement in this incident, he was neither punished nor disqualified from the priesthood. The people, on the other hand, were harshly punished when the Levites, by order of Moses, killed about 3,000 of the idol worshipers.

Although Aaron did not take any part in the construction of the portable sanctuary, he and his sons were appointed priests and consecrated into that office by Moses. During the consecration ceremonies, two of his sons, Nadab and Abihu, died when they burned forbidden incense before the Lord, a tragic loss that Aaron bore in silent resignation.

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David Mandel studied at the University of Pennsylvania under Bible scholar Moshe Greenberg, and moved to Israel in 1970, where he founded Computronic Corporation, an Israeli software development company that specializes in biblical software.