Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion is Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32), named after one of the biggest trouble makers of all time. Korach started a rebellion against the leadership of Moses. Of course, Moses, being the appointed leader of God, emerged victorious, while Korach and his followers were swallowed up by an earthquake.
The Midrash teaches that Moses got physically sick as a result of Korach’s rebellion. It says that he trembled, fell to the ground, and lost all his strength. Of course, Moses wasn’t sick for himself, he was sick for the honor of God. Moses never asked for the job of being leader — it was forced upon him. It was God’s will that Moses would lead the Jewish people. The reason Moses was so distressed at Korach’s rebellion is because Moses knew that it would anger God, and once again (offense #4 since leaving Egypt!) Moses would have to supplicate and appease God to forgive those who were sucked into Korach’s cult.
The Midrash offers a parable to illustrate the situation. There was once a prince who offended his father, the king. The king was very angry at his son and would not even grant his son an audience to hear him out. The king had a friend, however, who begged for mercy on the prince’s behalf. The friend was successful, and the king was appeased and forgave his son. Again and again, the prince would anger the king, and every time this special friend would come and save the day and make peace between them.
When the prince angered the king for the fourth time, the king’s friend became really annoyed and frustrated. How many times could he approach the king with the same story? How many different excuses could he come up with to explain the prince’s behavior? How many times could he do this until he loses credibility?
Moses felt the same way. They sinned with the Golden Calf…and Moses saved the day. They angered God with their complaints for meat…and Moses saved the day…In last week’s Torah portion the nation believed the evil report of the spies regarding the Land of Israel…and Moses saved the day. NOW KORACH? Widespread rebellion? A coup d’état on Moses’ leadership? Moses “had it”, which is why he couldn’t take it anymore, and simply “fell upon his face.”
How would a ‘normal’ or modern-day leader feel with a Korach-type rebellion? He would probably feel PERSONALLY insulted. PERSONALLY slighted. PERSONALLY distressed. But not Moses. He didn’t see it as a personal attack; he saw it as an attack on God and His honor, His authority. Moses was worried what would be with the Jewish people and what God’s reaction would be to their rebellion. He was worried that God would not grant him an audience to once again plead their case. It wasn’t about Moses. It was all about the people. Even when God killed Korach and his followers, and Moses was re-dedicated as leader, there was no “I told you so” out of Moses. No pride. No Schadenfreude.
This is the greatness of Moses. This is the greatness of a God-inspired leader. This is the greatness of a leader who puts the nation’s needs before his own. It is leaders like these that need to be put into office. And it is leaders like these, that all of us have to become in our own way, to our friends, families, co-workers, and even strangers.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin