Va’era – Age is Just a Number

The Torah often makes a point to tell us a person’s age at the time of their death, perhaps as a mark of accomplishment. However, when the Torah tells us their age at a certain moment in their life, it is seemingly trying to convey to us something altogether different. Such a midlife notation occurs in our parashah with reference to the ages of Moshe and Ahron. The Torah says that Moshe was eighty, and Ahron was eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7). Why at that moment was it important for the Torah to tell us their years?

A recurrent theme in the book of Bereshit (Genesis) is sibling rivalry. It occurs between Yitzhak and Yishmael, Ya’akov and Esav, and Yosef and the brothers. In fact in each instance it is the younger son who is chosen to lead, perhaps exacerbating the familial tension. In each instance an estrangement ensues, diving the family and causing parental despair.

The book of Bereshit leads us into a period of exile. The next book of Shemot (Exodus) is a book about redemption. The people as a whole will be freed from Egypt. What accounts for this shift from servitude to salvation?

I believe the answer may lie in Moshe and Ahron. Here too, we have two brothers, the elder is passed over, and the younger is chosen to lead. However, in this instance jealousy does not ensue, rather we are told that Aaron went to greet his brother with joy. He was happy for his kid brother’s achievement and was pleased to assist him any way he could. This display of unity symbolized that a persistent challenge had been overcome.

Perhaps then the Torah tells us their age, not to simply tell us how old they were but to make the point that Moshe was younger, and yet he and his brother Aaron still spoke to Pharaoh together in one unified voice. The message then is that when as a people we can find our common voice and truly work together anything is possible, even redemption.

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