A brief analysis of Parshat Korach illuminates the difficulty of convincing one to change their misguided approach. Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader who redeemed the Jewish people from slavery, led them to the encounter with God at Sinai, faithfully defending them at every turn – had lost the trust of the people. The tragedy of the meraglim- the spies – was much more than a conquest of the land delayed for a generation. It sowed the seeds of mistrust between the people and their leaders. These feelings were brought to the surface by the political opportunist and Moshe’s first cousin Korach. “They had a confrontation with Moses along with 250 Israelites who were men of rank in the community, representatives at the assembly and famous” (16:2). Aharon, the great peacemaker did not escape their wrath either. “They demonstrated against Moshe and Aharon and declared to them. You have gone too far”(16:3). The Jewish people were not willing to accept responsibility for their lack of faith. If they were to die in the desert the blame must lay elsewhere. Did not Moshe promise to take us to a land of milk and honey? It is he, not us who is failing.
Before the incipient rebellion could gain any more traction Moshe, Aharon and their detractors ‘had it out’ in full view of the people. Moshe successfully predicts a miraculous “earthquake” to swallow up the 250 dissenters. One would think that would be the end of the story vindicating the leadership of Moshe to the masses. Yet “the next day the entire Israelite community began to complain to Moshe. ‘You have killed God’s people’ they exclaimed” (16:6). Unbelievable. Recognizing Moshe’s continued leadership would mean taking responsibility for their own sins something they were not willing to do. They preferred to blame the victim. This continuing challenge to Moshe led to a plague costing the lives of an additional 14,700 people. Despite Aharon’s stopping of the plague, God instructs Moshe to conduct a further test to demonstrate Aharon’s choice as Kohen gadol. Even this would not suffice. “Put Aharon’s staff back there before the ark of testimony as a keepsake. Let it be a sign for anyone who wants to rebel. This should put an end to their complaints to Me and then they will not die” (17:23).
Rabbi Jay Kelman explains that this is typical of those who are fixated on blaming others for their problems they distort the facts converting positives to negatives. Though given a formula for long life i.e. stop complaining and stop trying to depose your rightful leaders, in the very next verse “the Israelites said to Moshe, We’re going to die. We will be destroyed; we are all lost” (17:21). It is at this point that God puts in motion His idea after the golden calf – of starting a new nation. The Torah thus records laws relating to the leaders, the kohanim and leviim and then silence, the silence of death for 38 years. “This is the decree of the Torah. When a man dies in a tent this is the law”. When the Biblical narrative picks up, it is with the death of Miriam in year forty.
“And do not be like Korach and his congregation” (17:5). While this prohibition refers specifically to creating unnecessary controversy it can also refer to refusing to learn from our mistakes or worse yet, to even see our mistakes. Korach, our Sages tell us, was a wise man. Many a wise person is convinced of their wisdom and is unable, or unwilling, to change course despite the warning signs. It might be health problems that are ignored or ignoring the obvious signs that our children (or we ourselves) have substance abuse problems. Perhaps we do not cut our losses from a misguided investment or continue conducting business oblivious to the changes around us. We may ignore a spiritual malaise blaming it on a mid life crisis. Who is wise? Haroeh et HaNolad – one who literally sees that which is born. The word “nolad” implies dynamic growth, maturation, freshness. The truly wise person is one who is always growing, carefully examining themselves to see if their thoughts and deeds need refining or even changing.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim