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Even when a comment, action, or response, might be justified, we have to consider if it is in our best interest to react. We don’t need to always be right…we need to always be smart!

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion (in Israel) is “Korach” (Numbers 16:1-18:32), which includes an episode with the portion’s namesake and the Torah’s most famous troublemaker. Korach challenged Moses and Aaron, his cousins, for the leadership and priesthood, insisting that it should be an “equal opportunity employment” position. He wanted the job. We know, however, that God Himself specifically chose Moses and Aaron for these jobs. And that was that.

Korach was the perfect example of someone whose ego and jealously led him to his death, and unfortunately his charismatic and persuasive oratory skills seduced others to join him, as well. Over 250 people were killed in the rebellion of Korach. He succeeded in convincing all these people that Aaron shouldn’t be the only one with the job of High Priest.

While Korach is certainly the villain of the Torah portion, and ostensibly the number one Jewish villain in the Torah, he was actually a very wise and learned man. He truly did have the potential to be a leader of the Jewish people. He was also incredibly wealthy, and until the fiasco, very respected.

The problem with Korach was not that he was jealous. That’s normal.

The problem was that he took his jealousy and initiated a fiasco. He threw mud at everyone for any reason. He led a rebellion. He divided the Jewish people. He was responsible for people’s deaths. That was the problem.

Moses was greatly distressed at the scene that was unfolding. So he devised a test to prove to the nation that he and Aaron were Divinely chosen. He told everyone to bring an incense offering and God’s acceptance of the person’s offering would be proof as to who was chosen. But even before the “test” got going, God told Moses to tell everyone to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and their followers. Moses knew what was up and said to the nation that if these people were to die of natural causes, then God did not appoint him or Aaron but if the earth swallows them up, it will be testimony that he and Aaron were chosen by God. The rest is history.

The commentators ask the simple question: What caused Korach to carry out this ridiculous scheme? It is quite certain that he truly knew that Moses and Aaron were appointed by God. What did he expect to achieve? Did he not realize he was putting his life on the line?

The answer is fascinating. It is explained that Korach saw prophetically that the prophet Samuel would be one of his descendants. Furthermore, it is taught that Samuel was so great that he was equal to Moses and Aaron combined! He also foresaw that his descendants would also serve in the holy temple. Based on these considerations, Korach thought that he truly had a crack at the job.

Moses also knew that Korach would have great descendants. He also knew that Korach’s punishment would be death. As such, Moses was nervous to proceed with the “test.” However, we are told that he ultimately proceeded with the test, and the deserved punishment of death, because he determined that Korach’s descendants would not be affected by his death. Indeed, some of Korach’s sons repented and many of his descendants were saved.

There is an important message here in Moses’ conduct and considerations. Even though Moses had the authority to proceed with the “test,” he hesitated before first determining the consequences. He needed to make sure that the correct response would not negatively influence the future or punish those who do not deserve to be punished. We see from here that the correct response is not always the best response. Even when a comment, action, or response, might be justified, we have to consider if it is in our best interest to react. We don’t need to always be right…we need to always be smart!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.