Aharon’s Crisis Management
הרב דני זוקרמן
Korach, of majestic lineage, along with an entourage of 250+ followers, confronts Moshe Rabeinu with an unprecedented challenge to Moshe’s leadership. Moshe, who has weathered his fair share of crises, responds in a surprising manner. The leader who shepherded klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, marched them through Yam Suf, pleaded for them after the Egel Hazahav, seems to have run out of steam. Moshe Rabeinu doesn’t respond to Korach; he falls on the ground instead. וישמע משה ויפל על פניו. It is only after this initial prostration that Moshe Rabeinu responds to Korach.
The beginning of our parsha is one of four occasions in which Chumash records Moshe falling to the ground. He and Aharon did it in Parshas Shelach in the face of klal yisrael’s expressed desire to return to Mitzrayim (14:5). He and Aharon prostrate themselves two more times in our parsha (16:21) and (17:10). However, one unique element of the episode at the beginning of our parsha is that, unlike everywhere else, Moshe falls alone while Aharon remains standing. Why doesn’t Aharon join Moshe on the ground?
What could motivate a leader to fall to the ground? In 16:21, it is clearly an act of tefilla, and some mefarshim say that is the motivation in the other circumstances as well (e.g., Ibn Ezra). Alternatively, in the other locations, prostration expresses shock and dismay at someone else’s actions (Rashi here and, more generally, Seforno). Another possibility is that Moshe and Aharon would prostrate themselves to appease their challengers (see Ramban 14:5). While all of these explanations could apply to Moshe’s interactions with Korach, none seem to justify Aharon not joining in Moshe’s response.
Ramban adopts a different approach to our episode, one which grants insight into Moshe’s distinction as not only a leader, but a crisis manager. According to Ramban, Moshe did not fall down to daven or to express shock or appeasement, but rather as an element in preparing his response to Korach (see Ramban 16:5, particularly from "ודעתי בזה" until the end). Once Moshe’s prostration is defined as part of his response to Korach, we can better appreciate Ramban’s explanation of why Aharon didn’t fall alongside Moshe:
כי אהרן במוסרו ובקדושתו לא ענה דבר בכל המחלוקת הזו ויהי כמחריש וכמודה שמעלת קרח גדולה ממעלתו אבל הוא עושה כדבר משה ומקיים גזירת מלך
Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was selfishly motivated, brazenly asserted, and downright blasphemous. Aharon was subject to Korach’s attack no less than Moshe and stood alongside him as a leader of klal Yisrael. We would expect that Aharon, as someone intimately familiar with the situation, would be the first to respond and deny Korach’s allegations. However, Aharon’s personal stake in the matter actually led to the opposite reaction. Instead of being the first to respond, Aharon remains silent for the entire episode. He silently accepts Moshe’s instructions, loudly demonstrating that every role he has adopted has only been due to גזירת מלך. [Ramban’s intriguing formulation leaves open two possible interpretations. Aharon humbly accepts the decrees of Hashem, or Aharon humbly accepts the commands of Moshe. Either way he is simply carrying out the role that others have cast for him, never claiming such a role for himself.] Though the public demonstration of Aharon’s chosen-ness would wait until the morning, Aharon’s muted response- particularly in contrast to Korach’s brash pronouncements- is the greatest demonstration of what indeed made Aharon so suited for leadership.
Of course, in a rebellion of Korach’s proportions a response is necessary, and indeed Moshe capably delivers it. However, we can learn from Aharon HaKohen that, even in the most severe crises, if our personal honor is at stake and potentially clouding our judgement, silence could be the most appropriate, and loudest, response.
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