Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 99: The Leadership of Moses and Aaron

The psalmist makes a surprising comparison:

“מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן בְּכֹהֲנָיו, וּשְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵי שְׁמוֹ; קֹרִאים אֶל-ה', וְהוּא יַעֲנֵם.” (תהילים צ"ט:ו)

“Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who invoke His name — they called out to God, and He answered them. (Ps. 99:6).

This appears to equate the prophet Samuel with Moses and Aaron. With all due respect to Samuel’s greatness, can he truly be compared to Moses, about whom the Torah testifies “No other prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel” (Deut. 34:10)?

And yet the Sages taught that Samuel was in fact ‘the equal of Moses and Aaron’ (Berachot 31b). How can this be?

Two Styles of Leadership

Most people value Torah and mitzvot, not in terms of their intrinsic worth, but as a vehicle to acquire a happy, balanced lifestyle. “Its ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17). An individual — and a society — following in the path of Torah will live a life of peace and tranquility. The sincerely pious do not become angry or haughty, do not lie or cheat, and are careful to respect others.

Yet in every heart burns an innate love of God. When we are filled with a lofty spirit of pure love, we are inspired to serve God altruistically. The righteous are constantly driven by this motivation for selfless devotion. For most people, however, these are special moments, spiritual high points. For most of their lives, they need to be encouraged to observe mitzvot, and this happens when they are exposed to the Torah’s beautiful ways and practical benefits.

Moses and Aaron were both extraordinary leaders, but they guided the Jewish people in different ways. Moses needed to be on a high spiritual level at all times, a level suitable for receiving prophecy. His mission was to instruct the people in the proper path. In order to accomplish this goal, he needed to live a life detached from the mundane concerns of the common man.

Aaron, on the other hand, “loved peace and pursued peace” (Avot 1:12), He was part of society, involved with the people and their problems. Aaron brought the Torah down to their level, demonstrating its beauty according to their spiritual and moral state.

Thus Moses and Aaron were very different types of leaders. Moses taught the Torah’s intrinsic value according to its absolute truth. The Sages described Moses’ approach of unyielding idealism as “yikov ha-din et ha-har” — ‘Let the Law pierce the mountain’ (Sanhedrin 6b).

This absolute truth was appreciated by tzaddikim at all times, and by the rest of the people at inspired moments. Aaron’s task was to promote receptivity to these special moments, as he encouraged the people to elevate their daily lives.

Samuel’s Leadership

And what about Samuel? In his tenure as leader and judge, he fulfilled both of these functions. A prophet like Moses, he spread the spirit of true service of God among the spiritual elite, and for the masses at inspired times. And like Aaron, Samuel strengthened Torah observance throughout society, teaching the Torah’s pleasant paths and demonstrating how the mitzvot beautify life.

Thus, in his leadership style, Samuel was ‘the equal of both Moses and Aaron.’

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, pp. 18-19)

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