Commentary on Parashat Vaera, Exodus 6:2 - 9:35
Things have gone from bad to worse. As intense as the slavery had been, now the Children of Israel must produce their quota of bricks without being provided with the straw they need. Although at first they believed that the redemption was imminent, now they have lost hope. Moses repeats God’s promises to save them, “but they did not hearken to Moses out of impatience and out of hard bondage” (Exodus 6:9).
The Narrative is Interrupted
And, when God insists that Moses return to speak to Pharaoh, Moses’s reaction is understandably full of frustration:
Behold, the children of Israel [who have a vested interest in listening] have not hearkened to me; how then shall Pharaoh [who has a vested interest in not listening] listen to me, I who am of uncircumcised lips?! (Exodus 6:12)
Nevertheless, God renews the command to appear before Pharaoh (Exodus 6:13). Suddenly, and quite abruptly, the narrative is interrupted, in order to provide us with a genealogy of the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Levi. This genealogy includes the life-span of Levi, his son Kehat and his grandson Amram; and the family of Amram and Yocheved, including Aaron and Moses, ending with Aaron’s grandson Pinchas (Exodus 6:14-25). Then, before resuming the narrative, we are reminded:
These are Aaron and Moses to whom God had said: “Bring out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.” These are they who spoke to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to bring out the Children of Israel from Egypt, these are Moshe and Aharon. (Exodus 6:26-27)
Now that we have returned to the narrative, the Torah reiterates the last part of the story before the interruption (Exodus 6:28-30). Thereupon the Torah continues:
And God said to Moses: “See I have made you as a god to Pharaoh, and Aharon your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and Aharon your brother shall speak to Pharaoh, that he send the Children of Israel out of his land.” (Exodus 7:1-2)
A number of problems present themselves in this passage, but first among them is to explain the unexpected excursus on the tribes’ genealogy. In dealing with this issue, however, Rashi’s explanation (Exodus 6:14) is puzzling:
Since [the Torah] needed to trace the lineage of the tribe of Levi until Moshe and Aharon, because of Moshe and Aharon, it began to trace them via their descendants from Reuven.
(Some commentaries elaborate that the Torah wants to show Levi’s special qualities of loyalty to Hashem and Torah in contrast to the two other, older, tribes.) But this begs the questions: Why does the text need to list the lineage of Moshe and Aharon? And, why now, in the midst of charging Moshe and Aharon with their mission?
Rashi addresses this in his commentary on Exodus 6:13:
Since Moses said I who am of uncircumcised lips, the Holy One, Blessed be He joined Aharon to him to be his spokesman and interpreter.
But, this further complicates matters: Have not the brothers been together ever since the first revelation to Moses (Exodus 4:14-16), with Moses saying what he heard from God and Aaron repeating it as a prophet?
Giving God’s Message
A comprehensive approach to this passage is to be found in the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush, 19th century commentator). He notes carefully the changes that occurred in the mission to free the Children of Israel. Originally, Moses was to discharge the mission alone: the voice of God would emanate directly from Moses’s throat (Exodus 4:12). Once Aaron was enlisted as Moses’s spokesman, such that the word of God was heard indirectly, the effect of the prophecy was diminished.
However, this was true only insofar as the mission to speak to the Children of Israel was concerned. Thus, we are told that, at first, both Moses and Aaron spoke to the Children of Israel, And Aaron spoke all the words which God had spoken to Moses (Exodus 4:30). To their credit, the people believed that God would save them, even though they heard so only through the intermediary Aaron (Exodus 4:31).
Afterwards, when the oppression was intensified, even the children of Israel refused to listen (Exodus 6:9).
Speaking in God’s Name
The mission to speak to Pharaoh, on the other hand, had not changed: alone, without Aaron’s mediation, Moses was to speak in God’s name:
And God spoke to Moses, saying: “ Go, speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the Children of Israel go out of his land.” (Exodus 6:10-11)
But, Moses thought that it was his own power of speech that was inadequate to convince the Children of Israel, all the more so Pharaoh (Exodus 6:12). In response, God makes both Moses and Aaron responsible for both missions:
And God spoke to Moses and Aaron and commanded them concerning the Children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt to bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 6:13)
The Brothers’ Collaboration
This is what Rashi meant when he said that God “joined Aharon to him to be his spokesman and interpreter.” From this moment, the true process of Israel’s redemption through the brothers’ collaboration begins. Therefore, only now must we become fully acquainted with the ancestry of Moses and Aaron, who are uniquely qualified for this mission. Furthermore, after concluding their lineage, the Torah reminds us that Moses and Aaron were sent as Hashem’s emissaries to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:26-27).
Although Moses receives the word directly from God and Aaron repeats it, both to the people and to Pharaoh, there is a difference in specialization. Aaron is dominant in relating to the people, explaining the physical and spiritual process of redemption, while Moses is dominant in relating to Pharaoh, presenting the signs and wonders, which will demonstrate God’s control of the world and liberate Israel.
Moses represents the absolute, the principles of justice and sanctity. Aaron is the man of implementation. Both will now work together–each one’s aspect complementing the other, to bring the promised redemption to fruition.
Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.The following article is reprinted with permission from the Orthodox Union.
Pronounced: ah-ha-RONE, Origin: Hebrew, Aaron in the Torah, brother of Moses.
Pronounced: moe-SHEH, Origin: Hebrew, Moses, whom God chooses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.