2 Tammuz 5781
Korach, Datan and Abiram, the principal characters of Parashat Korach, were all first born sons (bechor) entitled to the double inheritance. Our sages say that Korach was quite a wealthy man in Egypt, in fact, in Israel there’s an expression… “as rich as Korach”, meaning he was filthy rich. People of power and wealth tend to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement. Korach, Datan and Abiram were not happy that Moses and Aaron were chosen to be the political and spiritual leaders of Israel and they were overlooked for what they considered to be positions of power. They obviously didn’t understand that leaders are servants who bear the burden of responsibility; instead, this story shows us that they were excellent politicians. Most politicians promise anything to get into leadership positions and will do anything to stay there. They are excellent at twisting words to their advantage while denigrating their opponents. They believe in the hype of being Number 1 which is so important in our world today.
Here’s Korach accusation to Moses: “Why do you lift yourself up above the Congregation of the LORD? You take too much upon yourself, seeing that the whole congregation is holy, every one of them and the LORD is among them.” Any student of the Torah knows that Moses was the opposite. He never wanted to be the leader, in fact, he constantly looked for a way out; however, a thief always thinks that everyone else is a thief. He sees through the lens of his own desire. But Moses knew his place and was secure in his relationship with the LORD, so he didn’t defend himself; rather, when he heard the accusations, he fell on his face – this was act of sheer humility. Firm in his trust in the LORD, he spoke out loud and clear: “Tomorrow the LORD will show who are His and who is holy…” Ranebi (Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan) always said, “give people enough rope and they will hang themselves.” We don’t need to fight to defend our positions. If God has given us our role, even if someone else wants to take it, they won’t be able to. I remember helping several musicians get started doing what I did, singing and playing for the elderly. Someone said to me, aren’t you afraid that they are going take away your job? I knew that God had led me there and would keep me there until it was time for me to go. So no, I had nothing to fear.
Rabbi Yeshua told us a wise parable, a Mashal about the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. It’s God’s job to get rid of false leaders who will at some point, show their true colors. All we need to do is focus on the job at hand. The people would soon see who God had chosen and for what position. Self-serving politicians speak words that very similar to those of honest politicians, but they twist them; they are half-truths which can be more dangerous than outright lies. Moses said “…is it but a small thing to you, that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of Mishkan of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them;” In reaction, Datan and Aviram refusing to come to Moses when called, respond with “is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but you must make yourself also a prince over us?”
This exaggerated sense of their self-importance blinded these leaders so that they could not recognize humility in others. Korach wanted Aaron’s position as Cohen HaGadol, the High Priest. If he couldn’t be the ultimate leader like Moses, then he wanted the next best thing. Aaron, however, had truly been humbled through his experiences with the golden calf followed soon after by the death of his first two sons, who also didn’t know their place. His position as Cohen HaGadol didn’t mean that he would be an overlord, it meant that he would be a servant to all. Some politicians may start out by truly wanting to serve the public, but if their hearts are not wholly given to service, it won’t be long until they can be bought and end up serving only themselves. To be able to approach the Creator in the Holy of Holies, the Cohen HaGadol had to first cleanse himself. God knew Korach’s heart, and he couldn’t even pass this first test of humility. I remember people in the congregation wanting a position which they thought held prestige and were jealous of those who had it. They thought that sweeping the floor, washing the dishes or other menial tasks were beneath them. Rabbi Netanel would go into the kitchen and wash the dishes to show others that no task was beneath us.
Sadly, like the spies from Shelach Lecha, Korach influenced the entire community to rebel against Moses and Aaron. Bad news spreads quickly; it’s contagious. I can’t imagine what Korach must have been thinking in that moment when the Creator told Moses to separate the community from the leaders who had challenged him and Aaron. It says, “And Korach assembled all the congregation against them at the door of the Tent of Meeting; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.” The leaders watched everyone distancing themselves from them yet at no time did we hear them say that they were sorry or ask for forgiveness and to be given another chance. They were as hard-hearted as Pharaoh had been. Instead of Moses and Aaron rejoicing and saying, “good, they deserve what they get,” they fell on their faces and begged God to spare the community. This is a lesson for us about the heart of a leader who truly cares about his community. Korach and his household were swallowed up as the earth split open and the two hundred and fifty men who offered the incense were devoured by the fire of the LORD. There are severe consequences for our disobedience and as most of us know, pride comes before a fall.
We might think that after this, our people would have learned their lesson but next, we read in verse 6, “But on the next day all the congregation of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron saying, you have killed the people of the LORD.” What chutzpah! Soon the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD appeared. God told Moses to get away from the congregation for He was going to consume them. A plaque began, killing another 14,700 people and was only stopped by the intercession of Moses and Aaron. After this, we read about the miracle of Aaron’s rod blossoming while all the rods of the other princes did not. It was a sign to all those who doubted God’s calling upon Aaron’s life.
We, in this community, are called; the signs are obvious to those who are willing and able to see. God is not looking for perfect people. He doesn’t choose those who have the highest intelligence, who are the wealthiest, the most successful, who have the best looks or with the most charismatic personalities. He chooses the ones who have a heart that is willing to learn and is humble enough to be a servant to others. Many of us have had life experiences that may have crushed us, yet we are still here, and they have humbled us. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. We are still learning what it means to serve, and to know that we have been placed to serve both here in this community and in the lives of those people in our own circles of influence. It’s not always a very glamorous role or an easy one but the blessings are immense. Our lives are rich knowing that we have a Partner who walks through every trial with us. All we need to do is to listen and obey.
Shabbat Shalom, Peggy Pardo