Our Sages tell us that jealousy (kinah) is one of
the most lethal character traits in the human
personality. Literally, lethal--that is, severely harmful, and often even
fatal, to the individual who allows himself to
remain so afflicted, and does not strive to find and
apply the proper remedy (more on which below).
Korach no doubt used lofty-sounding slogans and
anthems to stir up, and exploit, discontent with
Moshe and Aharon (“Power to the Jewish people! More democracy!
Free elections for high-level positions!”), and he himself quite
possibly believed in the nobility of his
intentions on a conscious level. But the Midrash (oral teachings on the
Torah) burrows deep into his soul to reveal the real motivations of
Korach: he was jealous because Moshe had chosen
(at the command of Hashem Himself) a younger
cousin, instead of him, for an important leadership role within the tribe
of Levi. With the
force of his righteous indignation (and the bitterness of his thwarted
ambition), Korach took aim at one of the pillars
of our whole faith to this very day: the
authenticity, and trustworthiness, of Moshe’s prophecy. He suggested that
Moshe was not carrying out the expressed will of
Hashem (as he claimed), but was arbitrarily
inventing “commandments” and “Torah laws,” whether it was the appointment
of Aharon, and his sons, to the priesthood, or
the laws of tzitzis--both of which Korach
specifically challenged. And Moshe was doing it all, Korach implied,
merely to serve his own--and his immediate
family’s--interests, at the expense of the Jewish
people as a whole, all of whom were holy
and all of whom had heard G-d speak at Sinai.
So Korach’s “little” rebellion was quite a serious act of chutzpah, indeed!
Yet, in large measure, all of the above is irrelevant as we consider the lessons of the parsha for our own lives. The root of Korach’s apparently ideological disagreement was nothing more than his own private character disfigurement--the crippling trait of jealousy--, as our Sages have taught us (with their penetrating and wholly trustworthy insight).
Everything else that Korach talked about was window-dressing, posturing, theatrics-- nd so, too, for his followers, whose deepest motivations were similarly suspect. If you don’t know already, I won’t tell you how Korach and his gang were removed from this world. Read the Torah portion, and see for yourself. (Suffice it to say that his own punishment was every bit as spectacular and earth-shaking as was the rebellion he mounted.) Thus can a defect of character, to which all human beings are prone (even great individuals like Korach), produce such awful--and bone-rotting--results.
How can you and I avoid (or better, rationally come to terms with) the affliction that brought Korach down?
If we work to inculcate in ourselves the perspective that G-d has given EACH of us a unique and important role to play in this world, then we are less likely to waste our time looking at what somebody else has (or has attained). G-d has sent each of us on a unique and crucial mission--and a mission by no means impossible--that no other human being can perform…and on which G-d’s overall plan for Creation depends. Our great struggle, and the source of the only genuine honor and glory that awaits us, is to actualize our own (G-d- given) potential, and to joyously embrace our own (divinely directed) destiny.
Of course, it is easy to say such things, but much harder to achieve them on an emotional level. We have to battle “demons” within us (our Sages called them by the general name of yetzer ha’ra—the evil inclination) every single day, and not waste our energy trying to change things outside of us that are out of our control. (In Korach’s case: the divine will that directed Moshe specifically as to how to fill the positions of authority within the Jewish people.)
In a real sense, it all comes down to faith--emunah. Faith in G-d’s wisdom and goodness, faith that He has given each of us exactly what we need to succeed spiritually in this world…and that each of us has a sacred responsibility not to abandon the “post” we have been given. We need constantly to strengthen in ourselves the faith that G-d decides what’s best for us. (Is there anything harder for us human beings?) We must put in effort, of course, in all areas of life, but the results of our endeavors and our strivings are ultimately decided for us…as are the genes we have been born with. Acceptance of what cannot be changed, the collective boundaries on our lives that constitute the “will of G-d,” is one of our greatest tests in life.
If Korach had truly accepted the will of G-d for himself (rather than being seduced by his own desires and designs), and accepted that both he and Moshe (and everybody else) had a certain specific, but different, role to play, he would have been a happier person. He would have achieved true and lasting spiritual greatness. And he would have enjoyed a far happier end.
One other crucial point should be mentioned,
especially as I am writing this on July 4th, a
day when we Americans celebrate our national independence. The S’fas Emes
writes that Korach was lacking in the proper degree of national
consciousness. That is to say, he focused
excessively on his own individual achievements and spiritual
attainments (which, as mentioned before, were substantial) at the
expense of a sense of the destiny of K'lal
Yisrael (the Jewish people) as a whole. He failed to appreciate
that only through his connection to K’lal
Yisrael could he realize his full potential. He
was a spectacular one-man show, as it were, but K’lal Yisrael is an
ensemble…a k’lal (collectivity). He wanted no
boundaries put on his own ambition, even if those
boundaries were dictated by Hashem Himself, the G-d of Israel.
My e-mail address is email@example.com
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 912-351-0469; fax: 354-9923
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