That is Aaron and Moses…(6:26)
Rashi comments that some places Aaron’s name is listed before Moses’ and in other places it places Moses before Aaron; this is done to teach us that they were equal. Rashi’s explanation is difficult to understand because even though Aaron was great, was he really on the level of Moses, the illustrious leader and greatest prophet of all time? Maimonides said something even more incomprehensible when he wrote that not only the righteous Aaron reached the lofty level of Moses “but every single Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moses.” How can we understand Maimonides’ claim?
If we view things in terms of objective accomplishment, no one will ever reach the level of Moses. He led the people to redemption, endured rebellion and personal attack, was the greatest authority on law and at the same time the Torah testifies that he was “exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth.” If we gave him a “score” of 1000, no one, not even Aaron, would or will ever attain that high mark. If so, in what way can Aaron or anybody else be considered equal to Moses?
Rav Moses Feinstein (1895-1986) explained that while Moses’ objective “score” will never be equaled by anyone else, that was because he was born with unique abilities and a special neshama (soul); he had the capability to “score” 1000. Aaron’s “score” might be one hundred points lower but he is still considered to be Moses’ equal because he was not born with the same abilities and as lofty a soul as Moses but had fulfilled his potential. From the time of Moses’ birth, his family realized there was something special about him. After being saved by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, he was raised in Pharaoh’s house and therefore had a built-in “internship” in domestic and foreign policy and other aspects of leadership. Aaron did not have these gifts but utilized every talent he had to its fullest. In this sense, although his “score” was lower, he ultimately was judged as being equal to Moses because, like Moses, he squeezed himself to the maximum so that he used his inborn and acquired gifts to the limit. In this sense, they were equal.
The following story about the Chassidic Rebbi Zusha (1718-1800) has been told for generations. When he was on his deathbed, he cried. “Why are you crying?” asked his disciples. “If G-d asks me why I wasn’t like Moses or Maimonides,” answered Reb Zusha, “I’ll say, I wasn’t blessed with that kind of leadership ability and wisdom. But I’m afraid of another question; what if G-d asks, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you like Zusha? Why didn’t you find your inner being and realize your inner potential? Why didn’t you find yourself?’ That is why I am crying.”
There is a mystical teaching attributed to the Arizal (1534-1672), that no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint. That is truly a concept that has the ability to motivate us. We can wake up in the morning and think, ‘from the beginning of time until the moment I was born, there was no need for my existence. If there had been the specific need for what I can contribute, I would have already existed.’
While in this world people are given honor and respect based on their score, only G-d knows what score somebody was actually capable of attaining and grades them accordingly. The student at the top of the class, our neighbor or relative or co-worker who always seems to do more than us and accomplish it quicker, might have been endowed with gifts that we do not possess, and (s)he will be held to a higher standard by G-d. The Almighty will not compare us to anybody else, and we shouldn’t do so either.
(Sources: Rashi 6:26 quote Mechilta 7:1; Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 5:2; Numbers12:3; Drash Moses)