TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT KORACH
BY HENNIE BLACK
In this week’s Torah portion of Korach, we look at the famous dispute in which korach and 250 men challenge Moshe’s authority.
Did korach have a plausible argument or was his ego getting in the way?
In this week’s parsha, we learn of Korach and his assembly of men who question and challenge the authority and leadership of Moshe and Aaron.
Korach was a distinguished, smart and wealthy man. He came from a reputable lineage and was one of the elders of the Jewish people. Yet in spite of his standing, he felt slighted that he was not given a leadership position. He confronted Moshe in a dispute, along with a group of 250 men, for which he was punished by the earth opening and swallowing him up, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire.
The mishna in Pirkei Avot teaches us that “Every dispute that is for the sake of heaven will in the end endure. But one that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure. Which is the dispute that is for the sake of heaven? Such was the dispute of Hillel and Shamai. And which is the dispute that is not for the sake of heaven? Such was the dispute of Korach and his congregation.”
A dispute “for the sake of heaven,” such as the dispute of Hillel and Shammai, is one that takes place in order to understand the truth. It occurs when both parties genuinely want to hear what the other has to say. It is no surprise that the disputes of Hillel and Shammai, built as they are on a foundation of seeking truth, are eternal and everlasting. Indeed, they are learned and discussed in study halls to this very day.
In opposition to a dispute for the “sake of heaven,” the dispute of Korach was a dispute about ego, personal gain, and power. This type of ego-driven dispute is very destructive and affects the parties in the dispute both physically and spiritually, in that they often lead to slander, jealousy, hatred and embarrassment.
In response to Korach’s challenge, Moshe prayed and tried to reason with Korach and his followers. He told them to sleep on their grievances and wait until the morning. As the most humble man on earth, Moshe’s reaction is instructive. A regular man would have had his ego bruised, leading to typical displays of one upmanship with barbs, insults, and displays of anger. Instead, Moshe tried to make peace—in spite of Korach’s attempts at humiliation.
We are taught that inside every one of us, there harbors aspects of various biblical personalities. Everyone has the humility of Moshe, but, then again, we also have the ego of Korach. We need to prevent the “Korach” that exists inside of us, as we try to stem our need for validation and victory and work to curb deleterious traits, such as jealousy and anger.
As we approach the 17th of Tamuz, when the Romans surrounded the walls of the second Temple (leading to its eventual destruction), it is timely to remember the lesson of Korach. Our commentators teach us that it was because of baseless hatred and jealousy that was rife among the Jewish people that the Temple was destroyed.
It is thus an opportune time for us to reflect on how to better ourselves and learn from history. It is a time to focus on removing the dispute and jealousy in our lives and to humble ourselves, forgoing our need to win and come out on top and victorious.
It is a time to work to improve our love for each other and to attend to our similarities rather than our differences. It is a time to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives. May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple and peace throughout the world