Jewish Encyclopedia/Aaron

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AARON.— Biblical Data: One of two brothers who play a unique part in the history of the Hebrew people. He was the elder son of Amran and Jochebed of the tribe of Levi; Moses, the other son, being three years younger, and Miriam, their sister, several years older (Ex. ii. 4). Aaron was the great-grandson of Levi (Ex. vi. 16-20) and represented the priestly functions of his tribe. While Moses was receiving his education at the Egyptian court and during his exile among the Midianites, Aaron and his sister remained with their kinsmen in the eastern border-land of Egypt. Here he gained a name for eloquent and persuasive speech; so that when the time came for the demand upon Pharaoh to release Israel from captivity, Aaron became his brother’s nabi, or spokesman, to his own people (Ex. iv. 16) and, after their unwillingness to hear, to Pharaoh himself (Ex. vii. 9)

Aaron’s function included the duties of speaker and implied personal dealings with the court on His
Function.
behalf of Moses, who was always the central moving figure. The part played by Aaron in the events that preceded the Exodus was, therefore, ministerial, and not directive. He shared the miraculous powers of Moses, and performed "signs" before his people which impressed them with a belief in the reality of the divine mission of the brothers (Ex. iv. 15, 16). At the command of Moses he stretched out his rod in order to bring on the first three plagues (Ex. vii. 19, Ex. viii. 1, 12). In the infliction of the remaining plagues he appears to have acted merely as the attendant of Moses, whose outstretched rod drew the divine wrath upon Pharaoh and his subjects (Ex. ix. 23, Ex. x. 13, 22). The potency of Aaron’s rod had already been demonstrated by its victory over the rods of the Egyptian magicians, which it swallowed after all the rods alike had been turned into serpents (Ex. vii. 9 et seq.). During the journey in the wilderness Aaron is not always prominent or active; and he sometimes appears guilty of rebellious or treasonable conduct. At the battle with Amalek he is chosen with Hur to support the hand of Moses that held the "rod of God" (Ex. xvii. 9 et seg.). When the revelation was given to Moses at Sinai, he headed the elders of Israel who accompanied Moses on the way to the summit. Joshua, however was admitted with his leader to the very presence of the Lord, while Aaron and Hur remained below to look after the people (Ex. xxiv. 9-14). It was during the prolonged absence of Moses that Aaron yielded to the clamors of the people, and made a golden calf as a visible image of the divinity who had delivered them from Egypt (Ex. xxxii. 1-6. At the intercession of Moses, Aaron was saved from the plague which smote the people

——In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature: The older prophets and prophetical writers beheld in their priests the representatives of a religious form inferior to the prophetic truth;Typical
Significa-
tion.
men without the spirit of God and lacking the will-power requisite to resist the multitude in its idolatrous proclivities. Thus Aaron, the typical priest, ranks far below Moses; he is but his mouthpiece, and the executor of the will of God revealed through Moses, although it is pointed (Sifra, Wa-yiḳra, i.) that it is said fifteen times in the Pentateuch that "the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron." Under the influence of the priesthood which shaped the destinies of the nation under Persian rule, a different ideal of the priest was formed, as is learned from Mal. ii. 4-7; and the prevailing tendency was to place Aaron on a footing equal with Moses. "At times Aaron, and at other times Moses, is mentioned first in scripture—this is to show that they were of equal rank," says Mekilta בא‎, 1; and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), xlv. 6-24, expressly infers this when introducing in his record of renowned men the glowing description of Aaron’s ministration. According to Tan. (ed. Buber, ii. 12), Aaron’s activity as a prophet began earlier than that of Moses. The writer of the Testaments of the Patriarchs, however, hesitates to rank Moses the faithful, "him that speaks with God as with a father," as equal to Aaron (Testament of Levi, viii. 17). The rabbis are still more emphatic in their praise of Aaron’s virtues. This Hillel, who in Herod’s time saw before him mainly a degenerate class of priests, selfish and quarrelsome, held Aaron of old up as a mirrow, saying: Moses and
Aaron
Compared.
"Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!" (Abot, i. 12). This is further illustrated by the tradition preserved in Abot de-R. N. xii. Sanh. 6b, and elsewhere, according to which Aaron was an ideal priest of the people, far more beloved for his kindly ways than was Moses. While Moses was stern and uncompromising, brooking no wrong, Aaron went abont as poacemakor. reconciling man iiuil wife wlicii lie sjiw llicni cs trangcd. or a iniiii with liis neighbor wlnii llicv

When Moses at first declined to go to Pharaoh, my Lord, seial, pray thee, by the hand "f him whom thou wilt send" (ICx. iv. 13), he was

quarn-U'il. and winning evil doers hiiek into the right way by his friendly inlercourse. The mourning of the people at Aaron's death was greater, tin refore, than at that of Moses: for wherca.s, when Aaron dieil the whole house of Israel wept, including the women

unwilling to dei)rive Aaron, his brother, of the high

(Xum. xx. 'ii)), Moses was bewailed b^- "the sons Even in the ma of Israel" only (l)eut, xxxiv. 8). king of the Golden Calf the rabbis find extenuallis fortiting circumstances for Aaron (Sauli. 7^). tude and silent submission to the will of God on the loss of his two sons are referred to as an excellent example to men how to glorify God in the midst of great affliction (Zeb. IIT)/;; Josephus, "Ant."iii. § T). Especially signiticant are the words represented as being spoken by God after the princes of the Twelve Tribes had brought their didication offer ings into the newly n'ared Tabernacle: "Say to thy brother Aaron: Greater than the giflsof the jirinces is thy gift; for thou art called upon to kindle the light, and, while the sacrifices shall last only as long as the Temple lasts, thy light of the Law shall last !:<,

forever" (Tan., ed. Buber, in^yna. 6). In fulfilment of the promise of peaceful life, symbolized by the pouring of oil up<in his head (Lev. U. X., Midr. Teh. cxxxiii. 1), Aaron's Death of death, as described in the Ilaggadah, Aaron. was of a wonderful tranquillity. Ac-

companied by Jloses, his brother, and by Eleazar, his .son, Aaron went to the siunmit of Mount Hor, where the rock suddenly opened before him and a beaiitifid cave lit by a lamp preTake off thy jiricstly sented itself to his view. raiment and place it upon thy son Eleazar! " said Aaron did as comCloses; "and then follow me." manded; and they entered the cave, where was prepared a bed aroimd which angels stood. "Go lie down upon thy bed, my brother," Jloses continued and Aaron obeyed without a nnuniur. Then his sold

departed as if liy a kiss from God. The cave closcfl behind Moses as he left and he went down the hill with Eleazar, with garments rent, and crying: "Alas, Aaron, my brother! thou, the ]iillar of sui)plication

of Israel " I

When

the Israelites cried in bewilder-

ment," Where is Aaron? " angels were seen carrying Aaron's bier through the air. A voice was then heard saying: "The law of truth was in hismotith, and iniquity was not found on his lips: he walked with me in righteousness, and brought many Itack from sin" Mai. ii. 6, 7). lie died, according to Seder '( Jlam R. ix., R. H. 2. 3'!, and .losephus," Ant." iv. A, ^ 7, on .losephus says also that "he died the first of Ab. while the multitude looked upon him." The pillar of cloud which proceeded in front of Israel's camp disappeared at Aaron's death (see Seder 'Olam, ix. and R. H. 2l/-3u). The seeming C(mtradiclion between Num. XX. '22 et ner/. and Dent. x. 6 is solved by the rabbis in the following manner Aaron's death on Mount Hor was marked by the defeat of the peo]iIe in a war with the king f)f Arad. in consequence of which the Israelites fled, marching seven stations backward to Jlosera, where they jierformed the rites of mouridng for Aaron wherefore it is said "There fat Mosera]'died Aaron." See Mek., Besh(

i. Tan., Hukkat, 18; Yer. Sotah, i. and Targ. Yer. Num. and Deut. on the abovementioned passages. The rabbis also dwell with special laudation on the brotherly sentiment which united Aaron and Moses. AYhen the latter was appointed rider and Aaron high priest, neither betrayed any jealousy;

allah, Wayassii',

17c.

instead they rejoiced

in

one another's greatness.

.saying: "()

I

position the latter had held for so many years; hut the Lord rea.ssured him, saying: "Behold, when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart " (Ex. iv. 1-1). Indeed, Aaron was to find his reward, .says Simon ben Yohai for that heart which bad leaped with joy over his younger brother's rise ti) gliiry gicate'- than his was decorated with the Urim and Thummiin, which were to "be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth in before the Lord" (Cant. R. i. 10). Moses and Aaron met in gladness of heart, kissing each other as true brothers (Ex. iv. 37; compare Song of Songs, viii. l),and of them it is written: "Behold how giiod and how i>lea.sant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity !" (Ps. cxxxiii. 1). Of them it is said (Ps. Ixxxv. 1(1): " .Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and jxaee have kis.sed [each i>ther|"; for .Moses stood for righteousness, according to Deut. xxxiii. 21, and Aaron for]>eace, according to Mai. ii. (>. Again, mercy was personified in Aaron, according to Deut. xxxiii. S, and truth in Moses, according to Num. xii. 7 (Tan., Shcmot, cd. Buber, 2-1-26). When .Moses poiu'ed the oil of anointment upon

t!i<'

head of Aaron, Aaron modestly shrank back and

"Who knows

I have not cast some so as to forfeit this high ollice." Then the Holy Spirit spake the words: "Behold the precious ointment upon the hca<l, that ran down upon the beard of Aaron, that even went down to the skirts of his garment, is as pure as the dc'w of Ilermon " (P.s. cxxxiii. 2, 3, Jfili. Sifra. Shemini, Milluim; Tan., Korah, cd. Buber, 14).

said:

whether

blemish upon this sacred

oil

Lev. R. x.; Mtdr. Pctirat ha-MidriiKh, ).i)l-iVi; Yalh. yum. 7'14: BariDjr-Gould. it'i/cH^/.v if Old Tc.^'lnmcnt Chn'rnctent; lltritnivlfs of Ji-rnhitttrl, ed. M. (Vaster, pp. cxi. l:J(>-i:j:(; B. Beer, in Wertlieimer's Ja?(r/*., 18.%; HaniburRer. /At Gcit^ tier Hiiiitiiula, pp. l-S; the same, ReaUncyklnpOdic fUr

liiBLioiiKAi'iiv;

AJiartm

!'um.

Ii.

xix.;

In Jellineli's lict

i

liihii inttt Tiiliiiud.

K.

——Critical View: It has always been found difficult to construct a complete and consistent biographical story from the Biblical details as outlined above. According to most modern critics, the difficulties arise from the fact that these details come from different sources, and that these sources themselves are of different dates and represent separate stages in the development of the Hebrew religion and ritual. The Jahvistic document (usually cited as J) and the Elohistic (E) are held to have proceeded from the ninth or eighth century B.C.; while the Deuteronomic (D) reflects the time of Josiah, and the priestly document (P) the periods of the Exile and the Return. The genealogy (Ex. vi.) belongs to the priestly source (distinguished as P), while the details are about evenly divided between P and J (Jahvist) and E (Elohist) narratives, and one account of Aaron’s death appears in the Deuteronomic source. It is found that what concerns Aaron’s consecration to the priesthood and the acts of himself and his family in that office, as well as his relations to the tribe of Levi, proceed from the priestly source (P). This embraces most of what is said on these topics in Exodus (xxv.-xl.), Leviticus, and Numbers. Now it is claimed that for historical purposes a sharp dividing-line must be drawn between P (which has for its aim to describe the rise and progress of Aaronic priesthood) and the earlier document. The explanation of the distinction takes account of the fact that Moses and Aaron represent the genius and the mission of Israel as no other men do; the one being the great lawgiver and prophet, the other the first and typical high priest. Together they thus represent the moral and religious functions which Israel had to fulfil. With this idea in mind, the later Biblical writers treated the character and work of the two men representatively, so that they present not only a historical, but an idealized, Moses and Aaron. It is, moreover, significant that, leaving P aside, a fairly consistent biography may be made out, and this must be adhered to in the main; for P throughout is constructive and idealistic, using its narrative to indicate how the postexilian priestly system must have grown up to its ideal completeness in the course of Israel’s history. Much has been theorized by some critics, tending to show that Aaron the priest was a figment devised to give validity to the sacerdotal order. Even, however, if some interpolations in the documents earlier than P, due to priestly hands, be assumed, there remains a substantial historical basis of fact for the career of Aaron as the assistant and spokesman of Moses, as the deputy of his brother during the desert wanderings, and as the chief priest of his people. Among other considerations, a guaranty for the soundness of the tradition in the record of personal actions is afforded by the fact that what is disadvantageous to Aaron is told as well as what is favorable, and that he is shown, especially in the affair of the calf-worship, to have been influenced by the moral and spiritual limitations of his age and environment. See also Priests, Priesthood, etc.