The Torah seems to arbitrarily inform us that Moshe and Aharon were eighty, and eighty-three years old, respectively, when they first spoke to Pharaoh.
What is the significance of this piece of information?
The great statesman and scholar Don Issac Abravenel suggests it comes to teach us that ‘it is not fitting to approach the portals of government with serious matters, the young ones whose blood boils with passion, but rather the dignified elderly who have acquired much wisdom and are more appropriate for this divine mission.’
A timely message indeed. The Baal HaTurim, though, uncovers something more intriguing about this detail.
When Yosef informed his brothers of his impending death, he assured them that G-d, פקד יפקד — will surely remember you and bring you out of this land. Each letter in this cryptic ‘phrase of redemption’ possesses the letter פ , numerically equivalent to the number eighty. He revealed to them that just as he ruled in Egypt from the age of thirty until his death at the age of one hundred and ten, for a total of eighty years, so too will the future redeemer arrive at the age of eighty.
Although The Baal HaTurim does not make note of this, the two verses describing the rise of Yosef to his mission as viceroy at the age of thirty, and that describing Moshe’s ascent to leadership, are uncannily similar.
Now Yosef was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh... (בראשית מא מו)
Moshe was eighty years old and Aharon was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh. (שמות ז ז)
Was this eighty-year parallel merely a coincidence, or is there a deeper implication?
One of the illustrious rabbinic leaders of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem during the first half of the twentieth century, the great Hungarian scholar and Rav, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky, derives a compelling message from this noting of Moshe’s age.
The Talmud occasionally uses a sentiment, יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת — a person may acquire his world in one moment, in describing a person who suddenly rises to a flash of inspiration and carrying out a heroic act of devotion. In an instant a person defines his purpose in the world. Despite having lead a life of decadence, with one critical choice at the right moment, one can achieve what one was destined for.
Each one of us must ask ourselves why we were sent down on this earth.
The Midrash Tanchuma asks regarding the verse that describes Moshe tending to Yisro’s flocks, stating, ‘Moshe was a shepherd’, why does it talk in the past tense when he was still engaged in that activity. The Midrash answers that the objective of the Torah was not simply to discuss his present profession as much as it was to describe Moshe’s tafkid, objective in life, to become a leader who would shepherd G-d’s holy flock. The verse is accenting that which was decreed from upon high for this precious soul that was reflected in his sensitive tending to the sheep, that would come to fruition when his real career would begin at the ripe age of eighty.
Moshe and Aharon were waiting for this moment for eighty years. Moshe had fled Egypt at an early age, spending sixty years or more before returning to fulfil this mission. (תורת המהרי"ץ)
The Rav sees in this verse a charge to all of us. Never get discouraged, your time will come. It may take a lifetime but each one of us will hopefully ‘acquire our world at the given moment’.
Perhaps that is the intended contrast of Moshe with Yosef.
One may meet one’s tafkid — purpose in life, at the age of thirty and serve in that marvelous capacity for eighty years, or one may have to wait... and wait, honing one’s skill in preparation for the moment one has been waiting for, even if it may take eighty years in coming, and may only last for forty or less.
The great gaon, Reb Aryeh Leib of Lanzut, discovered that if one adds up the ages of Moshe and Aharon’s lives it equals one hundred and sixty-three. The middos / attributes, of נצח — eternity, and הוד — splendor, that are embodied within the personas of Moshe and Aharon respectively, also add up to one hundred and sixty-three. (חומת אריאל)
Netzach which means both eternity and victory, represents the ability to never falter, maintaining one’s objective despite the falls, achieving a connection to the Eternal in reward for that unfaltering perseverance. Hod is a splendor that emanates from one who submits one’s total will towards a higher will, that enthuses our every action and spirit, in the knowledge of the glory of that righteous path. Hod is rooted in הודאה, a word that means both admission and gratitude, the joyous sense of privilege that erupts from cleaving to a directive beyond our ken, that radiates pure truth.
Only when we mesh these two traits of Netzach and Hod —perseverance fueled by a higher truth that directs us, can we be victorious over our instincts, regaling in the privilege to represent G-d by rising to our mission in life when the time is ripe.
When these two middos mesh seamlessly it generates the middah of Yesod/ Foundation, the bedrock that binds us to G-d, giving us the ability to engender future generations in His image.
Yesod corresponds to Yosef. The word יסוד equals eighty, the number of years Yosef promoted the remarkable synthesis of Netzach and Hod, building a foundation upon which all future generations were infused with the ability to continue unto eternity.
May we each merit to discover the ‘moment we have all been waiting for’ and utilize it to its max.
May we never despair during that wait, by emulating Moshe and Aharon’s in acquiring our world when the moment is ripe.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן