Personality and Potential in Parashat Va’eirah

As our Kehillah blog develops, we are going to be posting a variety of perspectives from across the Center City Jewish community. These will include event announcements, personal reflections, holiday guides, and community news, among other things. We are excited to use the blog as one more tool to share the diversity of our community and are grateful to the individuals who are willing to write for us! Posts will also occasionally include words of Torah from some of the many inspiring educators and clergy from our various institutions. What follows is a d’var Torah by Rabbi Leah Richman, Community Engagement Specialist, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

For those of you who know me well, you may know I study a personality typing system known as the Enneagram. To learn more about it go to enneagraminstitute.org, or, for a “Torah perspective,” try the book “Awareness” by Miriam Adahan.   I will come back to the Enneagram a bit later.

In Parashat Va’eirah we continue learning the story of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) appearing before Pharoh on behalf of Hashem (G-d) to demand freedom for b’nai Yisrael (the people of Israel).  Earlier in the story we learned that Aharon HaCohen (Aaron the Priest), Moshe’s brother, was the one who spoke on behalf of Moshe because Moshe had a speech impediment.  Ususally, the Torah refers to Moshe first and then Aharon; sometimes the Torah reverses the order.  In our parasha, for example, we read (Shemot 6:26):

That is Aharon and Moshe, to whom Hashem said, “Take the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt with their legions.”

ה֥וּא אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן וּמשֶׁ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָמַ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ לָהֶ֔ם הוֹצִ֜יאוּ אֶת־בְּנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם עַל־צִבְאֹתָֽם

Regarding the order of the names, i.e., why Aharon is mentioned first and not Moshe, Rashi writes::

In some places, [Scripture] places Aharon before Moshe, and in other places it places Moshe before Aharon, to tell us that they were equal. — [from Mechilta, 7:1]

יש מקומות שמקדים אהרן למשה ויש מקומות שמקדים משה לאהרן, לומר לך ששקולין כאחד

This Rashi is very difficult to reconcile with other traditions we have regarding Moshe.  Our sages teach a tradition, for example, that he was the single greatest person to have ever lived.  Also, Rambam (Maimonides) teaches in his formulation of the seventh of his thirteen principles of faith:

…we must believe he was the father of all the prophets before him and that those who came after him were all beneath him in rank.  He was chosen by God from the whole human kind. He comprehended more of God than any man in the past or future ever comprehended or will comprehend. ….(commentary to the Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1)

One interpretation I heard from Rabbi Benzion Shafier is that there are actually two measures of a person.  One is the measure of that we see from our eyes.  We see achievements, leadership, success, wisdom, etc.  Another measure is the one seen from G-d’s eyes.  This is the measure of our potential.  Given the potential that we had to live up to, how well did we fulfill that potential?  Rabbi Shafier argues that Moshe and Aharon both reach almost 100% of their potential spiritual growth in their lifetime.  In that way, they were equal.  But in our world, we see more concretely and from that perspective, Moshe was on a higher level, because in an objective sense, he accomplished more than Aharon did.

This is reminiscent of the story of Reb Zusya:

The story is told of Zusha, the great Chassidic master, who lay crying on his deathbed. His students asked him, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the mitzvahs and good deeds you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven!”  “I’m afraid!” said Zusha. “Because when I get to heaven, I know God’s not going to ask me ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ or ‘Why weren’t you more like King David?’ But I’m afraid that God will ask ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like Zusha?’ And then what will I say?!” (web source).

Returning to the Enneagram, we learn that different personalities emerge from different basic inborn spiritual qualities.  While there have been attempts to match up different Biblical personalities with these different types, that is not my purpose in this teaching today.  Suffice it to say, that no one type is more inherently valued than other.  Each type however, has different levels of “health.”   A person can be a very healthy version of their personality or the opposite.  When each personality emerges as its highest self, natural G-d given gifts emerge effortlessly from within the individual.

As human beings, however, we are always going to notice the more obvious achievers, the more outgoing people, and the more “objectively” successful.  Obvious achievements and success deserve our respect, but so do more introspective gifts such as quiet creativity and humble compassion.  Moshe and Aharon each became the healthiest “them” that they could be.  Moshe’s accomplishments are more noticeable, but we need to also learn from Rashi to remember that we should not be fooled by objective standards–they truly were on an equal level in the eyes of G-d.