Aaron took an active role in the making of the Golden Calf. Was that done out of weakness? Was it done out of fear? What motivated the man that was clearly Moshe’s partner in leadership?
When Moshe descends from Mount Sinai after G-d tells him; “Go, descend, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly . . . they have made themselves a molten calf!”( Exodus ,32:7–8). Moshe then asks Aaron the following question (ibid 32:21), “What did this people do to you that you brought a grave sin upon them?”
Moshe clearly does not see Aaron as an accomplice to the idolatry itself but he is definitely concerned about his role. Following this, punishment descends on the perpetrators of the sin. Some are killed by the sword while others die after being forced to drink the water of the ground-up golden Calf (ibid 32:20). Many others die in a plague which G d sends. Yet Aaron is appointed as the High Priest! The people are smitten by a plague “because they had made the calf that Aaron had made” (ibid 32:35), yet the man who orchestrated the production of the golden calf is rewarded with the role of priesthood for himself and his children for all generations.
The two leaders were critical in implementing the Exodus from Egypt:
” Then HaShem said to Moshe, “See, I have made you like G-d to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. “( ibid 7:1).Yet at no time do we see any rivalry developing between them. In fact when HaShem tells Moshe that Aaron will aid him in his mission He says
“Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak, and behold, he is coming forth toward you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart.”(Exodus 4:14)Rashi on this verse says” It is not as you think ( Moshe) that he will resent your rise to greatness.It is due to this, that Aaron merited to wear the breastplate over his heart”
Yet these two leaders were clearly very different. The Talmud describes Moshe’s rigid idealism as “justice that will pierce the mountain “(Sanhedrin 6b). While Aaron is described in the same discussion in the Talmud as”“Aaron loved peace, pursued peace and made peace between one man and another” (ibid).
The Admor of Chabad points to a dramatic Midrash which clearly delineates their difference and their interdependency. We read in the beginning of Exodus:
“HaShem said to Aaron, “Go toward Moshe, to the desert.” So he went and met him on the mount of G-d, and he kissed him. (ibid 4:27)
The midrash connects this verse to the verse in psalms;” Kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. (Psalm 85″:11). Kindness refers to Aaron and truth connects to Moshe. Righteousness depicts Moshe while Peace connects to Aaron.
A people that is to be lead into a passionate eternal voyage, must be led by both of these sides of leadership. They need to be confronted by fiery truth and righteousness since the truth of the Infinite G-d is just that. They also must be nurtured with kindness and peace because the truth of mankind is they need that in order to flourish.
Yet when Moshe was seemingly “missing” on the mount ,Aaron tried to kindly delay the people and to help them realize the futility of their actions. Though there was much gold in the midst of the camps Aaron asked them to bring their most personal jewelry. Though they were made frantic by the mixed multitude in their midst he postponed the festivities” until the next morning. Yet despite these delaying tactics Aaron does not escape censure:
“And Moshe saw the people, that they were exposed, for Aaron had exposed them to be disgraced before their enemies. (Exodus 32:25).
Clearly there are situations where justice and what is right must prevail over gentle persuasion and loving kindness. Aaron needed a Moshe to stand beside him. Otherwise the people would lose the discipline and direction they so needed.Yet just as importantly Moshe needed Aaron alongside of him as well.Moshe would lose the prophetic ability to speak to the stones to draw water when he lost patience with his people and became angry. Leadership must walk a, measured walk between these two aspects and approaches.
Yet there is more, as we clearly see that G-d Himself asks that the people learn the same delicate walk in their relationship with Him.
“And now, O Israel, what does HaShem, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear HaShem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship HaShem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul,”(Deuteronomy 10:12).
Both love and fear are critical, because Love of G-d without fear of G-d becomes love of self. Fear of G-d without love of G-d simply becomes fear of punishment. It is clear that we need to reveal the Moshe and the Aaron within us to go forward and grow.