Weekly Torah Commentary — Korach June 18, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 16 – 18

This week’s reading contains one of the more dramatic events in the wilderness – the rebellion of Korach and his companions.

Korach rebukes Moses: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Num. 16:3).

First problem with his accusation is that Moses did not “set himself above” the children of Israel; God called him to that position and responsibility. In judging Moses’ intent, Korach actually reveals a great deal about his own character.

Someone may argue that his comment is in keeping with what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

The problem is that Korach does not mean what he says. He opposes the leadership of Moses because he himself wants the position! “All are equal, but some are more equal than others” is the seventh command in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, his critique of Stalinist Russia.

According to Jewish law, even a king is commanded to be humble. He is to carry a Torah scroll with him and read from it all the days of his life “so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites” (Deut. 17:19-20.

Biblical leadership is not a matter of status but of function. A leader is not one who exalts himself higher than those he or she leads. The absence of hierarchy does not mean the absence of leadership. An orchestra needs a conductor. A team needs a captain.

A leader need not have ‘better’ skills or talents than those he leads. His role is different. He is there to inspire, to co-ordinate, to make sure that everyone is following the same script, traveling in the same direction, acting as a community rather than a group of prima donnas. The leader must have a vision and communicate it. Whether he likes it or not, at times he has to impose discipline.

Without leadership even the most impressive group of individuals will produce not music but noise. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). That is what happens when there is no leadership.

According to the Bible, a leader is a servant; to lead is to serve. Anything else is not leadership as the Torah portrays and understands it.

This is what Korach did not realize: it is not that Moses was a different kind of being than we are all called to be. It is that he epitomized it to the utmost degree. The less there is of self in one who serves God, the more there is of God. Moses was the supreme exemplar of the principle, that “Where you find humility, there you find greatness.”

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at humility. What is it really? Do I have any??
Humility is recognizing who God made you and embracing it. The genuinely humble person is not phony. He realistically evaluates the gifts and talents he/she has received from the Lord, is thankful and diligent to use those in service to God and others, always and foremost aware that all the glory belongs to the Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom

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