Parashas Tetzaveh

In this week’s parashah, Hashem instructs Moshe about the process of inducting Aharon into the position of Kohen Gadol. Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 28:1): “Now, you bring near to you Aharon your brother and his sons along with him, from among the Children of Yisrael, to minister to Me.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 37:4):
It is written (Tehillim 119:92): “Were your Torah not my delight, I then would have been devastated in my affliction.” When the Holy One Blessed Be He told Moshe, “Now, you bring near to you Aharon your brother and his sons … to minister to Me,” Moshe viewed the matter with disfavor. Hashem told him: “I had the Torah – without which My world would have been devastated – and I gave it to you.”
The Maggid sets out to shed light on this puzzling Midrash. His starting point is a Midrash in Koheles Rabbah 1:8 about the status of Jewish leaders. The Midrash expounds:
It is written (Divrei HaYamim Alef 12:28): “And Yehoyadah, the leader of Aharon.” Was Yehoyadah indeed Aharon’s leader? Rather, understand the matter as follows: If Aharon were alive in Yehoyadah’s generation, Yehoyadah in his time would be greater than him.
The Midrash then goes on to present a few similar comparisons.
Elsewhere, the Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 42:2):
Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 32:7): “Go, descend.” Moshe said to Him: “Master of the Universe! Yesterday You told me (Shemos 19:24), ‘Then you shall ascend’ … and now You tell me to descend?” Hashem replied: “It is not for your own honor that you ascended, but for the honor of My children. To their elder [Yaakov], I showed a vision (Bereishis 28:12), ‘Behold, angels of God were ascending and descending בו [literally, on it].’ What is the meaning of בו [homiletically, through them]? Thus I told him: ‘When your children are righteous, they ascend, and their leaders ascend with them. And when they descend, their leaders also descend.’”
The lesson behind these teachings is as follows: Just as it is a deficiency for the leader of a generation to be lower in caliber than the people of his generation, so, too, it is a deficiency for the leader to be too much higher in caliber than the people. It is just like choosing a garment: the garment must be of the right size, not too small and not too large. Similarly, in order for a leader to be successful, he must not be of too low a level or of too high a level. If a person is of much higher caliber than his community, he will not succeed in leading the people, for they will not have the capacity to emulate him and follow his ways.
This is what the Midrash is saying when it states that if Aharon were alive in Yehoyadah’s generation, Yehoyadah in his time would be greater than him. The reason for Yehoyadah’s greatness in his generation was not due to an absolute dearth of people of Aharon’s caliber in that time. Rather, it was due to Yehoyadah’s being suitably matched to the people. If Aharon were alive in Yehoyadah’s time, he would have less eminence and influence than Yehoyadah. Similarly, after the Jewish People committed the sin of the golden calf, and thereby descended greatly from the lofty level they had attained at Sinai, Hashem told Moshe to descend: In order for Moshe to be able to continue leading the people, he had to descend in his spiritual level (at least outwardly) so that he would remain suitably matched to the people.
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. A nobleman hired a tutor for his older sons. Sometime afterward, his youngest son reached the age for learning the alphabet, shapes, and other similar elementary topics. So he hired another tutor for this son. The first tutor asked him: “Why did you hire another tutor for this boy? Do I not know enough to teach him? After all, you regarded me as capable of teaching your older sons, so certainly I should be able to teach this young boy.” The nobleman replied: “Based on your reasoning, you could equally well ask why I myself don’t teach the boy. And the answer is that my mind operates on so much higher a level than his that I cannot teach him effectively. The same is true of you: Your mind operates on too high a level to teach children as young as he is.”
This, the Maggid says, is the idea behind Hashem’s response to Moshe’s disfavor with Aharon’s being appointed Kohen Gadol. Hashem was telling him that he had no reason to be upset over not being appointed to the position himself, for he was of too high a level compared to the people to be able to serve effectively in this position. Hashem made His point through a comparison with the giving of the Torah. He was saying: “The Torah was Mine, and I gave it to you and made you an intermediary between Me and the people. Why did I not teach them the Torah Myself? The reason is that I am too far above them. Indeed, they themselves said (Shemos 20:15): ‘You speak with us, and we will listen. Let God not speak with us, lest we die.’” In this way, Hashem taught Moshe the lesson that in order to serve effectively in a public position, a person must be neither of too low a level nor of too high a level, just as in the analogy of choosing a garment.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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