Reading the account of Korach’s rebellion still astounds me, though I’ve read it for years now. After all that the children of Israel had experienced to this point, how could anyone question the authority of Moshe? The Sages tend to agree that envy was the motivating factor. Korach wanted position and power and his envy overrode his good sense and understanding, not to mention his spirituality. Envy is indeed a very deadly sin.
When Korach accused Moshe of seizing the leadership, he said, “Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of God?” The Torah continues, “Moshe heard and fell on his face,” and afterwards reprimanded Korach. There is a great lesson to be learned here.
Moshe’s first reaction at being criticized was to fall on his face, not to lash out at his accuser and mount a defense.
Although Moshe knew that God had appointed him leader over Israel, because of his great humility, his reaction to this accusation was to think that perhaps he had let his position go to his head, perhaps he was in fact guilty of vanity, and even, perhaps, Korach was an agent of God to deliver a well-deserved rebuke. Now that is a humble soul….
Moshe fell on his face to do some serious soul-searching; only after he felt his conscience was clear, did he arise and rebuke Korach.
It’s our turn now to do some soul searching. What is our reaction to being criticized – whether it’s deserved or not deserved? Is our first impulse to get angry? To lash out in defense? To justify our ourselves? To respond with harsh criticism of the other person, reminded them “You’re not so perfect yourself, you know.”
Constructive criticism should always elicit a positive response from us for it is the only way we can grow and improve ourselves. Though it’s humbling, we must embrace it; in fact, that very feeling of being embarrassed or humbled just proves that our humility is still imperfect.
Where the real virtue shines is when we can be mature enough to respond appropriately to destructive criticism, such as Korach leveled against Moshe. This demonstrates his greatness: he did not reject out of hand the accusation of Korach, but first searched his own soul to see whether there was any validity to it at all.
One cannot live life without experiencing criticism – some justified, some not. The wise person listens even to the unpleasant accusations with a maturity that does as Moshe did — ponders what was said to see if there is any grain of truth at all contained in the accusation. Though the accuser’s intentions may be malicious, what they say could contain an element of truth that we need to hear. Even if 98% of it is incorrect, it is well worth uncovering the 2% for the standard that Hashem has set for us in the Torah is high: ‘You shall be holy, as I am holy…’
The ability to accept criticism graciously, without anger or defensiveness, is the mark of a spiritually mature and truly humble person.
In Tune with Torah this week = re-examining my reactions to criticism or correction and striving for the kind of humility that will hear truth from even the most unlikely of sources and respond appropriately in order to grow in wisdom and holiness.