Parshas Korach: Aharon’s Silence In The Face Of Dispute

In this week’s parsha comes the latest in a series of complaints from the Jewish people against Moshe and his leadership. Korach rallies the nation behind him, attacking the priestly status of Aharon. When this objection reaches the ears of Moshe, he falls on his face:

Numbers 16:4:

וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּפֹּ֖ל עַל־פָּנָֽיו׃

When Moses heard this, he fell on his face.

While many commentaries discuss the nature of this falling — was it prayer, or perhaps something else? — Ramban brings up a different issue with this posuk altogether. Ramban notes that the uprising of the Jewish nation was directed against both Moshe and Aharon, yet the above posuk mentions only Moshe’s reaction. Why didn’t Aharon “fall on his face” as well?

This seemingly glaring question is overlooked by many of the commentators, but the answer can very likely be found by simply looking back two posukim prior:

Numbers 16:2:

וַיָּקֻ֙מוּ֙ לִפְנֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַאֲנָשִׁ֥ים מִבְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים וּמָאתָ֑יִם נְשִׂיאֵ֥י עֵדָ֛ה קְרִאֵ֥י מוֹעֵ֖ד אַנְשֵׁי־שֵֽׁם׃

They rose up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute.

The Torah seems to state explicitly that the nation’s criticisms, while about both Aharon and Moshe, were directed here only at Moshe. Based on this, the question of Ramban seems to fall apart; the reason Aharon didn’t fall on his face was because the Jewish people didn’t complain to him!

Nevertheless, Ramban maintained that his question was a fair one. Presumably, he was asking his question on a grander scale, based on the proposed idea that at no point throughout the entire episode of Korach does Aharon act without the direct command of Moshe. The question, of course, is why. Why wasn’t Aharon affected by the challenge to his leadership at all?

The sefer Sha’arei Aharon quotes the Shach who proposes an answer based on the Ibn Ezra that prophecy cannot take place during moments of sadness. During the uprising, due to his level of despair, Moshe — the token navi — lost his nevuah. According to the Ibn Ezra the reason that Moshe fell on his face was in order to restore his nevuah. This need for immediate contact with God was only felt by Moshe, though, given his unique status as the navi. Thus, the reason that Aharon didn't fall on his face as well was because he did not feel the need for an immediate restoration of his prophetic abilities.

Ramban, however, answers the question differently. Due to Aharon’s humility he felt that Korach actually might have been greater than he was, and as such did not feel he was able to respond to Korach’s attacks. Rather, Aharon did only what Moshe told him to, as he understood that Moshe’s word was law.

R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (16:4) suggests an alternative read of this story: the reason that Aharon remained silent was because, to him, the kehunah was not a personal matter. Aharon felt no personal pride about his exalted position. Rather, the kehunah was simply what he was supposed to do, it was his job. God instructed Moshe to appoint Aharon as the kohein gadol, so Aharon accepted the position.

In truth, R. Hirsch and Ramban are really reflecting two sides of the same coin. The humility that Ramban spoke about emanated from the fact that Aharon took no personal glory from his position, as per R. Hirsch. Aharon believed that his appointment was not due to his own greatness, but rather because it was what God wanted of him. Aharon attributed any level of greatness he had to the kindness of God; it was all a gift. Therefore, in Aharon’s perception, it was feasible that Korach was greater than he was, as perhaps Korach’s greatness was “earned” in a way that his own stature was not. This is the flaw that Moshe then corrects.

Indeed, any and all gifts and abilities in our own lives come from God. Often we have to put in our own work to actualize those gifts, but their source always remains in the hands of the Almighty. One’s talents don't make him any greater than his friend; rather, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

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