Shabbat Parashat Va'eira 5764
The First and Greatest RabbiHarav Moshe Zvi Polin
The late and sainted Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik often remarked that Moshe was simultaneously the greatest prophet, had the status of a king and served as Kohen Gadol. Yet, we never call him by any other title than Rabbenu, our Teacher. Moshe was the first and forever our greatest Rabbi.
In last week’s parasha Moshe experienced not depression but self-doubt. Long before he appeared before Paroh, even before Hashem called him, his first venture into leadership was challenged, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?!” (Shemot 2:14) Moshe echoed those same sentiments in an expression of self-doubt, “O Lord, …why did you send me?” (Shemot 5:22).
So, in this week’s parasha, in addition to reassuring Moshe about the success of his mission, Hashem reassured him about his leadership. “So the Lord spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them concerning the people of Israel” (Shemot 6:13). Moshe was “elected” rabbi of the people of Israel by one vote – Hashem’s!
Thus, it didn’t matter later when Miriam and Aharon denigrated Moshe’s elevated status, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moshe?” (Bamidbar 12:2), nor when Korach and his gang challenged Moshe’s authority, “You have gone too far, for all the community is holy.” (Bamidbar 16:3)
The Rabbis understood Hashem’s charge not only as a reassurance to Moshe but also as a bit of advice about his “congregation:” “Know that they are disobedient and bothersome. [You can lead them only] on condition that you accept their curses…” (Sifre Beha’alotcha, 91)
By the end of his mission 40 years later, a much wiser and more self-assured Moshe realized that he had in fact succeeded as Hashem’s messenger. He had helped to liberate Israel from Egyptian slavery, to teach them Torah, and to transform a band of freed slaves into a great people – but not without supreme effort and forbearance. Moshe Rabbenu was universally respected but, unlike his brother, Aharon, not universally loved (see Rashi, Devarim 34:8). Such is the life and destiny of a rabbi.
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