Aaron, Moses, Chur: Very Different Leaders



This week's Torah portion, whose centerpiece is the story of the Golden Calf, presents us with a typology of three different kind of leaders: Moses, Aaron and Chur.

Two are household names, but Chur is not so well-known. Chur is mentioned at the end of Parashat Mishpatim. When Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the covenant, he leaves Aaron and Chur in charge of the people.

According to the Midrash (Tanchuma Tetzaveh), Chur is killed by the mob because he vigorously protests against making the Golden Calf.

Chur represents the kind of leader we might characterize as courageous and confrontational. The rabbis base this story on the absence of any further mention of him after he is given such a prominent role in Mishpatim.

According to this same Midrash, Aaron, having seen Chur killed before his eyes, goes along with the people's demand for the Golden Calf.

However, rabbinic tradition, in general, has a more generous view of Aaron than just a timorous soul who folds under pressure. True, Aaron is nonconfrontational and wants to appease the people. He is the kind of leader who will do anything to avoid conflict. But, again according to rabbinic tradition, he is loving and kind, as well as a rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace.

According to rabbinic legend, if two people were quarreling, Aaron, on his own initiative, would go to each of them separately and assert that the other one wanted to reconcile. No wonder that he was so beloved of the people that, according to the rabbis, at the time of his death, he was mourned more than Moses.

What about Moses? He is the kind of leader who often is more like Chur.

He punishes the people for the sin of the Golden Calf and, throughout the Torah, chides the Israelites for their inability to obey God. Yet he also pleads with God and becomes an advocate for the people after the Golden Calf incident. After all, he has the patience to put up with this rag-tag collection of difficult former slaves for 40 years. So he combines certain qualities of both Chur and Aaron.

In our personal lives, we find times in our various relationships when we need to be like Chur, and at times, when we need to be like Aaron. Few of us successfully manage a continuous, Moses-like balanced blend.

In history as well, there is a time for Chur-type leaders and a time for Aaron-type leaders.

For example, British leader Neville Chamberlain's Aaron-like stance was not as effective against Hitler as was Winston Churchill's Chur. Civil-rights head Martin Luther King Jr. and South African activist Nelson Mandela knew how to be Moses-like, and combine confrontation and reconciliation. What kind of leaders do we need today in the United States and Israel, given the dangerous and confusing world in which we live?

Rabbi Alan Iser is the religious leader of Congregation Or Shalom in Berwyn.


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