It feels so good to look at mistakes that other people made, take a deep breath, and say,
“What an idiot”. Be honest. Could you see yourself standing in Korach’s shoes? He lived through the plagues, the splitting of the sea, receiving the Torah. He ate mann every day. Did he really think that Moshe, the man who Hashem selected to bring these earthshattering events into being was a bad choice? Wouldn’t taking over Moshe’s role be that be like me taking over the control tower in a huge airport? If you were there at the time that Moshe announced that Hashem had told him to install Elitzafon (yes, I know you never heard of him) as the leader of the Levites, would you call for new elections?
Korach was far from a fool. He was blessed with intellectual capacity far greater than anyone you are likely to have encountered. He was fabulously wealthy. He had presence.
His flaw was that he believed in democracy.
He argued that no one is inherently “better”. Everyone deserves an equal chance at being whatever they choose to be. It’s a convincing argument. After all, in some ways we are all the same. We all fear loss rejection, pain, failure, poverty and death. We all want acceptance, comfort, success, financial security, and life? Doesn’t that mean that we are all basically the same?
Not really. From the perspective of the Torah the truth about your identity is far more complex. While you and I have many areas of life that are almost indistinguishable, there are many areas that are non-negotiably different. One is the genetic heritage you carry with you that was determined by Hashem before you were born. This includes specific intellectual and emotional tendencies (some of which have observable genetic markers!). Another individuating factor is the family that Hashem selected for you; your position in the family; the factors that made your mother into the person she was when she saw you the first time; their health, their financial success or lack of financial stability and endless other factors that you didn’t choose. Each of them is part of the environment that was the backdrop for your choices. You also live in your times which are very different than my times. I never faced the horrors of overt anti-Semitism-my older relatives can’t imagine life without its tedious repetitive mind-numbing background music of cliché-ridden hate. You may have grown up in an environment where anti-Semitism is somewhat fashionable. You have your body, your life experiences, the neural channels your choices have engraved on your mind. There never was or will be someone who is your clone. The Talmud put it this way; “How great is the King who mints countless coins, and each one is different”. None of this means that the similarities between you and every human are illusory. They are just as real as the differences, and demand just as much acceptance, direction, and care.
Korach didn’t accept that the differences are real, and that they are purposeful. He wanted leadership. Hashem gave it to Elitzafon.
What are you supposed to think when you feel like a size 9 foot being forced into a size 6 shoe? Why should you be denied a role that feels right, and by your definition of fair, you should have it!
Korach’s father. Yitzhar was the second of Kehat’s sons. Kehat was the most distinguished of Levi’s sons. His first son, Amram, was Moshe, Miriam and Aaron’s father. Amram had two more brothers, Chevron and Uziel. Korach’s expectation was that since Moshe had “taken” the glory for his own nuclear family, (Amram’s children) when the leadership of the tribe of Levi was up for grabs, the fact that his father Yitzhar was the next brother made his choice the most likely one. But it wasn’t’. Moshe skipped over Yitzhar, and Chevron, and chose Elitzafon, Uziel’s son for the leadership. The way Korach saw this was that Moshe doesn’t want to share power. That’s a good reason for choosing a young leader who was not groomed for the job. Korach maintained that Moshe didn’t want Korach’s great mind, immense wealth and charismatic personality too close to the power base.
Was he wrong?
Of course, he was wrong. The reason isn’t that nepotism is a great value and must be maintained at all costs. The reason is that only Hashem who authors each individual’s abilities and environment knows the plan he has for each person. Fulfillment comes from living the life that offers you the maximum potential to be yourself. The problem that Korach had, is that he didn’t really know the self he could be. He only knew the self that he was at the time that he decided that he had had enough. Had he waited, there would have been a place for him; a position called Levi Gadol, the High Levite, a position much like that of the Kohein Gadol High priest) would have emerged. Hashem had a pair of size 9 shoes waiting for the day that Korach could step into them.
You can choose to be Korach, or you could choose to be Moshe.
Interestingly, Korach, who was fighting for the fulfillment of his own ambition destroyed himself and everything that he touched. Moshe was very much his opposite. To him, the only question worth thinking about when he was faced with choices, was what does Hashem want NOW.
Korach was convinced that he was acting “leshem Shamayim” for the sake of heaven. He wanted spiritual self-expression on the highest level, and encouraged others to do the same. The result was disaster.
The earth swallowed up Korach and his followers. Th reason is that fomenting this brand of discontent is a crime against the earth itself. The earth was given to us humans to turn it into a place of profound spiritual beauty. The way this happens is by negation of ego, and focusing on what Hashem gives us. Moshe was the humblest of men. He could know what Hashem wants of him through seeing reality through a clear lense, devoid of ego or any prism of self. He was a living GPS heading towards where we were meant to be.
In Pirkei avot we are asked to refrain from disagreement. Sometimes a disagreement that has a core of being leshem Shamayim is ‘captured’ by ego, desire and the rest of the choir. Disagreement where there is no emotional agenda is an entirely different matter. It is called ‘search for truth” and is the key to all serious learning.
Where does your search for truth lead? You are all different and simultaneously you are all similar. If you are sincere, you won’t all get the same answers., but you will look to the Torah for your truth. The vast majority of fragmentation within the Jewish people comes not from hearing different answers, but from looking for answers in the wrong places.
Recently, we have been living in a world in which humans are no longer in control and have been forced into seeing this with overwhelming clarity. Maybe we can learn not only to ask the right questions, but to look in the right places, and surprise ourselves when Moshiach arrives – may it be soon!