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Rebellion or Entitlement?

Thursday, 25 June, 2020 - 4:34 pm

Was Korach not right?  What a question, you may say.  Korach was a leader in the Levite tribe who rebelled against Moshe and Aharon.  When we read the narrative in the Torah in this week’s Parsha, Korach, we see that he attacked Moshe on several fronts.  The crux of his argument, according to Rashi, was that he was passed over for leadership.  Moshe came from an illustrious family.  His father Amram was the leader of the Jews, and he had three great brothers, Yitzhar, Chevron and Uziel.  Amram’s two sons, Moshe and Aharon, got the top two leadership positions, Moshe was the “Nassi” – President is one way to translate that – and Aharon was the High Priest.  These were positions of leadership for the entire nation.  Another position of leadership within the tribe of Levi was the Nassi of the illustrious Kehot family, of which Moshe, Aharon and Korach were a part.  Moshe gave that position to Elitzafan the son of Uziel.  Korach was mad.  OK, he said, “the eldest brother’s family gets two leaders, but next in line should be me, the son of the second brother, Yitzhar.”  Why did Moshe give this position to the son of the youngest?   Of course once Korach started a rebellion, it developed to include all kinds of other grievances.  

The question I am raising though is, Wasn’t he right?  Korach was a very prominent leader.  He was the wealthiest man in the nation.  (There is a Yiddish saying: “Reich vi Korach” – wealthy like Korach.)  He was a great scholar, well respected, and was even a prophet!  His case was taken up by 250 judicial leaders, all appointed as judges for the Jewish people.  So why, indeed, was he not chosen for that position, and was he not justified to claim his rightful position?  The easy answer is, of course, that whatever Moshe did, he followed Hashem’s direction.  As we read two weeks ago, Hashem describes Moshe as “in all My house he is faithful.”  Korach’s mistake was that he did not accept that Moshe was completely devoted to Hashem’s will with no personal ego, and thought Moshe was filling the positions on his own.  The question remains, though, why indeed was Korach not given the position.  


Korach’s story is discussed extensively by our Sages in the Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah and Chassidus, and there are many levels of explanation.  I want to focus on one point that speaks to me today.  True leadership is not a meritocracy.  A leader is not something that should be given or taken because someone “deserves” it due to position, family, wealth, or any other perceived “right” that the person has.  A true leader is not trying to be a leader.  A true leader is someone to whom the needs and wants of the people he or she leads are all that matters.  True leaders are almost always reluctant to take any official position, and when they do, it is because that is what the people they lead need.  Moshe argued with Hashem for seven days at the burning bush, asking him to choose another.  And when Moshe did stand up powerfully to crush Korach’s rebellion and assert his position, it was without any arrogance or sense of self.  It was purely in order to ensure the peace and success of the people.  We see previously when the Jews were complaining to Moshe and Aharon that Moshe twice uses the term “Venachnu ma?” – What (or who) are we? (Shemot 16:7, 8)  Chassidus explains that Moshe really felt that he was nothing, only a conduit for Hashem’s will.  Moshe devoted himself to the people, completely ignoring his personal needs, even sacrificing his very name in the Torah to protect those who had worshipped the Golden Calf, and even attempting to make peace with Korach’s buddies, the troublemakers and nemeses of Moshe, just before they were swallowed up by the ground.


Korach, on the other hand, demanded his “deserved” position.  He was a man of wealth, of stature, of great lineage and a great scholar and prophet to boot.  However, that is not what makes a leader.  A leader is a servant, doing what it takes, including asserting his leadership position when necessary, to take care of the people.  


We saw a leader like this in our generation.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away on the third day of Tamuz, was the “Moshe” of our times.  I don’t have the space here to go into the details, you can find a tremendous amount of information here, and I hope you take some time today, the 26th yartzeit – anniversary of his passing, to reflect on his impact on each of us.  Suffice it to say that here was a man who showed what true leadership is – completely selfless, devoted to the needs of every person in the world, initially reluctant but, or perhaps because of that, arguably one of the most powerful Jewish leaders of all time.


His leadership continues to this day, in several ways.  Since a leader of that stature is ego-less and his leadership is purely as a conduit of Hashem’s will, his greatness and impact are not limited to his physical body.  Hashem is eternal and His words passed on by a Tzaddik, and their effect, are eternal.  In addition, the Rebbe inspired a generation of leaders, whose entire purpose is to serve.  The 5,000 Shluchim families around the world are focused entirely on serving the people.  Following the Rebbe’s inspiration, Shluchim and Shluchot all over the world serve the Jewish people, not trying to build “positions'' or “careers,” and not thinking of themselves as leaders.  Even the name “Shliach” means an emissary.  And because of the focus on serving the needs of others, the Rebbe and his emissaries Chabad have effected a transformation in the world.  


This transformation is bringing us to the final, great transformation, when the world will reveal it’s spiritual source, the Word of Hashem, with the coming of Mashiach.  This was ultimately the Rebbe’s goal, and together we can bring it to fruition.  For ideas on how to mark this holy day, please see here


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