Korach - weekly Torah portion

We all remember well the tale of Korah’s rebellion. He and his followers rise against the leadership of Moses and Aaron and die because of their false accusations. However the lesson has not been learned. “ But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.’” Really?! That is what happened?! The facts as the story goes were the Moses and Aaron got a marvelous offer, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” But these leaders who were just accused by Korah and his men, do something different, “they fell on their faces and said, ‘O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?’” In short, fake news is created – an alternative story to what had happened in the previous day. It is safe to say that the creativity of fake news and spins is not something that has begun in our times.

Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

The problem with all of this is that even what is not a truth but appears as one must be dealt with in one way or another. Therefore a new experiment is conceived. Moses is asked to “get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households. You shall write each name on his rod, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi; for there is one rod for the head of each of their fathers’ households. You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you. It will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout. Thus I will lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.” A simple solution, a miracle will happen and the People shall be certainly convinced. Moses does as ordered, and “on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the Lord to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod.” Do you really think this experiment worked? “Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying! 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, must die. Are we to perish completely?” So much for that – yet another failed experiment. The attempt to get rid of the complaints against Moses and Aaron simply does not work.

One can wonder about two thins. First how come God cannot make this simple thing happen? Getting the People of Israel to stop their complaints. This is the very God that parted the sea, that sunk the mighty forces of Egypt, who cast the plagues of darkness and death of the first-born, and more. An attempt after an attempt, show after show and God fails to convince the Israelites. The scientist Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But we do not expect God to be insane. It seems that the issue at hand is different. It is not the People who are put to the test again, and once more, and over again. It is actually the leaders who are put to the test. Are the leaders actually capable, despite difficulty, failures and thanklessness, still be able to lead that very People?

We would certainly understand Moses that he had enough, that this was too much pressure, and that he cannot hear yet again all the wrangling and bickering and complaining. Despite that Moses, and his brother Aaron, show a different kind of leadership. They display a a leadership that does not despair, a leadership that time and time again are up to the task of leadership, making very few mistakes during the passage of time. Their mistakes are not left outside of the biblical tale but are described and addressed. Moses, Aaron and Miriam are not sons of God, or remote monarchs, there are humans, flesh and blood. However, they are true leaders who put the long-term interests of the People they lead ahead of their own interests and benefits. When Korah and his people complain to Moses he can clearly and unequivocally state, “I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.” Even though he has benefited the People he leads in so many ways he has never taken a thing back in return.

With the background noise rising between the first and second elections of 2019 we hear a lot about leaders and leadership. There is no doubt that quite a few of them cannot repeat Moses statement, “I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.” Some have taken money or benefited themselves, others did bad in deed or in words. Too many of them took care of their own while claiming to benefit the public. During the time leading up to election day it is important that we, the voters, think hard and deep about those who really care about the People, those who will continue to bicker, grumble, complain, and debate, while still loving this complicated and wonderful Land in many and varied ways. It is important to take the time to think it through, and not less important to cast our votes wisely.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 28 June 2019, 26 Sivan, 5779

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