Equal partnership, says the Gemara, is a recipe for disaster. When all the people in a group bear equal responsibility and hold equal power, nothing is accomplished. קידרא דבי שותפי – לא חמימא ולא קרירא, a pot owned in partnership never gets cold but never gets hot (Baba Batra 24b). Why? Because although either partner may throw a stick on the fire to keep it alight, neither will expend the energy to make the pot boil. Partnership alone cannot complete a project, the Gemara insists. For that, leadership is necessary.
In light of this, it is perplexing to find a Rabbinic statement that Aaron and Moses were equal partners. The Torah says (Shemot 6:26):
הוּא אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יְקוָק לָהֶם הוֹצִיאוּ אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַל־צִבְאֹתָם׃
“That is [the] Aharon and Moshe to whom God said: Bring the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt in their masses.”
The last Tosefta in Masechet Keritut (4:7) comments,
בכל מקום הקדים משה לאהרן במקום אחד הוא אומר (שמות ה׳:א׳) הוא אהרן ומשה מלמד ששקולין זה כזה
“In every place, Moshe preceded Aharon. [However] in one place, it is written: “That is [the] Aharon and Moshe” which teaches that they are considered equal.”
How can that be? In all of Jewish history, Moshe stands alone, our greatest prophet, our greatest leader. There is no question that Aharon, Moshe’s older brother, was great, but equal to Moshe? It’s not possible!
Rabbi David Pardo (18th c. Sarjevo), in his commentary to the Tosefta, Chasdei David, brings a kabbalistic explanation: All of the lower sefirot are imbued with divine light that causes them to crack. When the light escapes from one sefirah, it crisscrosses the lights from the other sefirot. Therefore the light that comes from the right side ends up on the left and vice versa.
Moshe, represents gevura (strength) and Aharon represents chesed (kindness). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) says:
משה היה אומר יקוב הדין את ההר אבל אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום ומשים שלום בין אדם לחבירו
Moshe would say: Let the judgment pierce the mountain. But Aharon was a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace, and he would make peace between one person and another.
This is reflected in the simple narrative (peshat) as well. Moshe strikes down the Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew slave and he breaks the Tablets when he sees the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf. Aharon, on the other hand, is forgiving to a fault. He constructs the Golden Calf to soothe the anxious nation and he is silent when his two sons are struck down for overzealous worship.
The Chasdei David explains that even though Moshe is gevurah, he projects light that lands on chesed. Similarly, although, Aharon represents chesed, he projects light that lands on gevurah (strength), and there is a spot where both of their lights meet in the middle. Although both Aharon and Moshe have their own areas of specialization, the strengths of each are also present in the other.
The genius of the Chasdei David is that even in the simple narrative (peshat), Moshe has moments of softness. His healing prayer for his sister, Miriam (Bemidbar 12:13), א-ל נא רפא נא לה, “Please God, please heal her,” is a masterpiece of compassion. On the flip side, Aharon enacts many of the plagues of Egypt. He too has a hard side, a capacity for violence when justified.
How does this address the question of the pot that will not boil? Because of their specializations, neither Moshe, nor Aharon is likely to rely on the other to do their part of the job. However, each still retains the strengths of the other.
Each of us is gifted with particular strengths. There is a temptation to identify with these strengths as though they are all we have to offer. ‘I’m a math person,’ ‘I’m a spiritual person,’ ‘I’m an artist,’ ‘I’m a rationalist.’ This identification can close us off to other gifts we may have. Moshe and Aharon both specialized and embraced their other strengths. I bless all of us that we succeed in strengthening our other gifts and not solely identifying with our specializations. We must seek out the places where the lights meet: where strength is tempered with kindness and rigor is tempered by faith. Only by embracing our multifaceted gifts can we begin to approach the greatness of our biblical role models.