I remember, as a little boy, my excitement on stumbling upon a biography of Aaron Burr. The only other famous namesake I had was Moses’ brother. There was Hank Aaron, but he was really Hank. Now, almost forty years later the list of famous people named Aaron remains short. I have to add Aaron Copeland and a whole bunch of actors. Not a great bench.
Of course Aaron Burr was a world-class creep who killed the former Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton) in a duel and flirted with treason, spearheading a plan to carve out a new nation in the Louisiana Purchase.
The ranks of renowned Aarons is thin enough, that my aspirations to join are not completely unrealistic (or maybe it is a message that peope named Aaron are simply not fated to greatness.)
This weekend, on Shabbat, the portion of the Torah read was Shemini, in which two of Aaron’s sons are burned to a crisp for offering alien fire at the altar. (Occasionally religious studies inform my academic work see here and here.) As a friend delivered a lesson about the interaction between Aaron and his brother Moses, I was struck. I am named Aaron. The Aaron the High Priest played second-fiddle to Moses. He spoke for Moses and handled the ceremonial duties. But he didn’t have the gumption or vision to lead the people out of Egypt. When the Israelites started constructing the Golden Calf, Aaron couldn’t stop them – he could only try to influence their actions on the margin and make it less offensive to Hashem. Moses was one who hurled the thunderbolts.
Aaron was like Moses’ vice president. And then, the other famous Aaron of history was in fact a vice president (a rotten one, but still…)
Was I somehow destined to study Vice Presidents – the close, but not-quite great?
It is somehow comforting to think so.