How did Moshe and Aharon get along as brothers? They clearly do a good deal of work together, though they occupy different realms. But if there was any event in the Torah that would have put a strain on their relationship, it would have to have to been ma’aseh ha’egel, the Golden Calf episode, of which we read this Shabbat of Parshat Ki Tissa.
“Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?'” (Exodus 32:21) Clearly feeling threatened by the tone of his brother’s question (accusation?), Aharon replies with a twist on the truth: “So I said to the, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off!’ They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!” (32:24)
There’s even a scholarly suggestion that the two kingdoms of ancient Israel, north and south, used a sibling rivalry narrative to explain the origins of their conflicts. Stories that disparage Moshe (striking the rock, for example) are products of the Aaronid priestly clan; the Golden Calf debacle was the other kingdom’s way of besmirching Aharon’s reputation (for more on this, see Richard Elliot Friedman’s classic book Who Wrote the Bible?)
The sibling dynamic in this Torah portion inspired to select the chapter “Between Siblings” by Rabbi David Greenstein in The Observant Life (pp. 693-708). Noting that the first book and a half of the Torah pays great attention to brotherly love or its opposite, it’s worth noting the transformation of the term “brother” once the Torah moves into its legal sections. Still, there are legislative considerations to the blood sibling relationship that are worth looking at. As we read the chapter in preparation for Shabbat’sThe Observant Life Lunch and Learn, consider how the relationships with which you are familiar and think about how they fit into the Jewish tradition’s understanding of sibling interaction.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise