September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

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No Pain—Even If—No Gain

I saw it quoted about Rav Moshe Feinstein, who said near the end of his life: “as far as I know, to the furthest extent of my memory, I never harmed anyone, nor did I ever hurt a person’s feelings.”

Indeed, the greats of our nation maintained a deep sensitivity and care for the feelings of others, ensuring not to cause another person emotional pain and discomfort. While Moshe is in the high heavens receiving the Torah, Aharon is down on earth, and in quite a predicament. The people think Moshe is gone for good, and that now, they are lacking a leader who will guide them and take care of them. Discombobulated, worried and panicked, they are on the verge of going down the wrong path. Aharon realizes they need a leader. But who?

According to the Da’at Zekeinim (32:2), Aharon weighed three potential options. He said, “If I appoint Calev or Nachshon as their leader, when Moshe returns, there will be a major quarrel about who will be leader. If I don’t appoint anyone as leader, they will attempt to nominate their own leader and that too will cause a quarrel. And if I appoint myself as leader, perhaps Moshe will be bothered by this,” (maybe an envy-related emotion of Moshe feeling that his position as leader is being usurped). Aharon, thus, attempted a different strategy. He tried stalling for time by asking the people to bring the gold of the women and children. Hopefully, Moshe would return by the time anything drastic would occur.

Rav Henach Leibowitz points out the following: In option three of Aharon becoming leader, Aharon was concerned that Moshe would possibly feel hurt by that. However, firstly, this is only a possibility and not certain that Moshe would feel distressed. Secondly, upon Moshe’s return, Aharon would have explained to him his noble and proper intentions in making himself leader; and so, even if—in theory—Moshe would be hurt by what he sees, soon after, Aharon would explain to him the whole story and Moshe’s ill-feelings would be resolved. Thirdly, it’s the great Moshe Rabbeinu we’re talking about, so even if Moshe would be pained, it would be very, very minimal (and it would quickly vanish upon Aharon’s explanation). Fourthly, by not being leader and—instead—going with his alternative strategy, Aharon knew that it could, potentially, lead to making the golden calf. And still, Aharon didn’t go through with it.

In short, the pain was only a possibility; it would’ve been very minimal—both qualitatively and quantitatively—and going with the alternative strategy would have led to the golden calf. Yet, Aharon refrained from being leader, just not to cause Moshe even a distress of this sort. We see from here how careful we are to not cause a person even a minimal measure of distress and pain (“Chidushei Halev,” Ki Tisa).

If Aharon actually became leader, seemingly everything would have been under control once again, as the people would feel at ease and safe now that they have a leader. Thus, Aharon could have potentially “saved” a thoroughly angst people from going way downhill (which they ultimately did), and yet, he—nevertheless—dismissed the idea, in order that Moshe not be pained. Aharon could have gained much, but he wasn’t willing to gain at the expense of causing another person pain.

We find this in the reverse; this time, Moshe demonstrates his sensitivity for Aharon’s feelings: Earlier, when Hashem wanted to begin the redemption from Egypt, He wanted Moshe to be the leader to liberate Bnei Yisrael. Yet, Moshe unrelentingly declined!

Why did Moshe pass up the opportunity? The midrash (see Shemot Rabbah, 3:16) explains that Moshe didn’t want to cause Aharon pain and distress. Aharon had been serving as the prophet for Bnei Yisrael for 80 years already, and so Moshe refused Hashem’s request, not to cause Aharon anguish by taking his place as Hashem’s emissary.

Okay, so Aharon might be pained (maybe similar to what Aharon was concerned by Moshe above). But even so, again, a person on the level of Aharon, likely, would theoretically only experience but a very minimal amount of distress. That’s compelling enough for Moshe to turn down this golden, weighty and crucial opportunity?

Additionally, the Alter of Slabodka—Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel—points out that Bnei Yisrael—the people who Moshe cared so deeply about and shared with them in their pains—are undergoing untold excruciating labor in Egypt, and now, they could finally be liberated, to eventually receive the Torah and go to Eretz Yisrael! Yet, it seems like the potential negative feelings that Aharon might experience—which anyways seem out of place in this momentous context of Bnei Yisrael’s potential liberation—are so important to Moshe that they outweigh the above.

We see from here how much care is to be taken when it comes to causing another person any sort of distress (see “Ohr Hatzafon 2,” page 15-16). Moshe, as well, was willing and insisting to forgo much gain, in order not to cause another person even this sort of emotional pain. Opportunities and decisions may come our way. Understanding the overwhelming importance of care with regard to another person’s feelings, can—perhaps—give us a clearer vision and perspective on situations that, although, look like they carry much gain, might also come at the expense of another person’s pain.

Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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