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Parashat Korach

June 23, 2023
4 Tamuz 5783
Numbers 16:1 - 18:32

Dear Friends,

Authenticity seems to be in play when we look at this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 16:1-18:32). In this portion, we have the story of a full-blown uprising against the leadership of Moses by Korach, his relative, also from the tribe of Levi.

Can we tell when someone is being authentically themselves, true to their core values and beliefs? We like to believe that with authenticity comes core values that we would wish to emulate -- values that reflect an ethical core. However, in this Torah portion, both Korach and Moses are authentically themselves without necessarily being ethical. One is charismatic, a smooth talker who believes with all his being that he deserves to lead; the other is authentically humble, understanding that with leadership comes responsibility and that his role is to serve the people, not to stand above them.

Korach appears to want power for its own sake, even as he pays lip service to the people by saying of Moses: “ You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Divine is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3) From this quote, Korach believes that holiness is a constant state of being, rather, it is something that we reach for. He also does not seem to understand the leadership model that Moses presents. When Moses hears Korach’s words, he falls on his face. It is a sign of grief, a foreknowledge of what is to come. 

We have watched as oses constructs his brand of leadership. As leader, he works side by side with others, raising up those who are willing to step forward. It is not the model of the absolute ruler. We are told eighteen times throughout our Torah that Moses is the servant of the Divine. Furthermore, this model of leadership is enshrined in the hope that the kings of Israel will be humble in their leadership. He should believe himself not to be better than his fellows. To be humble does not mean to be self-effacing, rather it means not to put oneself above others.

A Hasidic example: A man came to the Zaddik with a complaint. “All my life,” he said, “I have tried to follow the advice of the rabbis that one who runs away from fame will find that fame pursues him, and yet while I run away from fame, fame never seems to pursue me.” The Zaddik replied: “The trouble is that while you do run away from fame you are always looking over your shoulder to see if fame is chasing after you.”

We are told again and again that Moses is humble and yet he ultimately does not run away from the job at hand. He knows that the job he has is daunting and he says so. Along the way, we see him grow in his leadership, wielding his authority with the knowledge that he is but a servant of the Divine.

If only those who were considered leaders in the world today did so for the betterment of their fellow human beings and less for their own glory.  Those who lead in the service of others are rare indeed and must be acknowledged when they appear. They are the ones who are truly authentic.

Wishing you all health in the coming month, as I will be taking some vacation time and will resume my weekly messages in August.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784