Basic Story: Korach, one of the rich leaders of the Levites, and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, felt that he had been slighted and overlooked in the distribution of the highest priestly honors and leadership. Realizing that despite his riches and influence he alone could do very little to shake the people’s faith and confidence in Moses and Aaron, Korach looked for associates in his campaign against them.

Korach found Dathan and Abiram, who had been trouble-makers in Egypt and the ringleaders of disaffection and rebellion. They were the first to rally to the party of Korach, and they were his most eager agents among their tribesmen. With their experienced and clever campaigning along with Korach’s money and influence, they grew the rebellion to about 250 people; they now felt bold enough to go out into the open and speak up against Moses’ leadership of the people. Adopting the mantle of piety and justice and arrogance, and pretending to be a champion of his people, Korach accused Moses and Aaron of imposing their leadership upon the community. “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” said Korach (Numbers 16:3)

Moses’ response: Moses spoke to Korach and his party, and told them to prepare themselves for the next day, when G‑d would show whom He considered worthy to serve Him as priests. Then Moses spoke to Korach privately and warned him against his lust for personal honor. “Is it not enough that the G‑d of Israel has distinguished you from the congregation of Israel to draw you near to Him, to perform the service in the Tabernacle of the L-rd and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? ” Moses said (Numbers 16:9). But his words fell on deaf ears.

End Result: The next day, standing in defiance, Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth and perished.

So, what are we supposed to learn from this story? How does it relate to our lives?

Initially, the idea for this dvar focused on my favorite topic of parenting lessons from the Torah. Right now that feels like super, low-hanging fruit to talk about how a 2-year old rebels at being told “No” or for being shushed. And the lessons that parents need to learn about having patience and to understand the tantrum from the child’s point of view. Maybe the kid is simply tired, or hungry. We moved to Texas right before Rachel turned 3 years old and we totally turned her world upside down – we changed her house, her daily caregiver, her routine – and she repaid us with a nightly tantrum… until we realized that she needed an opportunity to control something – anything – in her world. So, each night we let her decide which placemats to use at the table and where we should each sit. By seeing it from her perspective, we were able to return some control to Rachel and she stopped rebelling.

But you know… I HAVE to move on from these parenting of little kid lessons and see the ADULT meaning of Torah in our lives. So, in preparing this dvar with a different focus, what are the lessons from Korach that we should be taking home today?

The first question I asked is why does Korach rebel against authority (the priestly class)? I’m pretty sure that Korach is feeling jealous – HE wants to be a leader in the community. Additionally, Korach disbelieves that the priestly class was selected by God and was instead a man-made; and if the community leadership is man-made, why can’t it be with Korach at the helm?

Korach wants to make his case but needs supporters and when he finds them, he works hard to ensure they have the same distrust of the leaders. He turns his supporters against the leaders and he does it with vehemence.
That sounds quite a lot like what is happening in our world today, doesn’t it?

  • Political campaigns that are focused smearing the opposition and name-calling
  • People using social media to bolster support for their points of view

While neither of those examples are motivated by jealousy, the mechanism of finding support for their points of view results in loud and boisterous gatherings of people. In some cases, people are taking to the streets to make sure they are heard; and in some cases, people are just joining in political solidarity for a common cause. But in all honestly, those large crowds have become really scary to me.

Yes, I value the ability to speak openly in this country.

Yes, I value the ability to gather freely for a common cause.

But these gatherings for the purpose of being heard feel like stepping into the target zone. And that’s kind of what happened on Thursday night in Dallas – a free speech gathering of citizens to show support against unjust police brutality in America became a horrific scene of terrified people running out of that target zone. No, the everyday citizen was not the specific target Thursday night… but choosing to gather openly in support of a hot topic is too risky for me. I fear the mob mentality.

Call me chicken… or uncommitted that I am not strong enough in my beliefs to march in protest. I don’t really care how you choose to categorize me. I am scared to be so open.

And that really pains me.

I’m don’t consider myself a bystander – I will stand up for what I believe and I will step in to help. But I feel I have to be very choosy. And rational – not emotional. Maybe it’s because I am not in my twenties and I have children and I feel responsible and most protective toward them. In fact, I have been known to be quite the Mama Bear to defend my children against verbal attacks… I cannot even imagine how I would respond to a physical one.


Lessons to be learned

Jealousy is a destructive behavior. It motivates people to behave in their own interest at the expense of others. A jealous man quite often ends up hurting himself (and those around him).

Desperation is dangerous. A desperate man is motivated to act emotionally and that short-term thinking usually ends up with a poor result.

Be careful who you choose as your leader. You need to make sure to use your head and not your emotions when choosing to follow someone’s lead. Think for yourself, but not only about yourself. You must think about how supporting a particular leader is good for your family, your community, your country.

Don’t let yourself be talked into something you don’t believe, or that you know is wrong.

Do speak up for what you believe… but don’t try to sway others to your same beliefs with only emotion. Use rational arguments that you can support – not hyperbole, tears, horrific images, threats, name-calling, or sensationalism.

Don’t feel helpless or desperate. You are not alone. You are not helpless. There are others around you who feel the same way or who at least understand and accept your feelings and beliefs. It is okay and beneficial to seek them out and find your support. Quiet support. Calm support.

Shabbat Shalom