“From all your gifts you shall raise up every gift of God,
from all its best part, its sacred part from it.” (Numbers 18:29)
This week’s parasha (portion) is named for Korach, a Levite who challenges Moses’ (and God’s) authority. Korach accuses Moses of vanity and of setting himself above the community, arguing that if each Jew is holy, why should Moses and Aaron reserve for themselves the two highest positions of authority: prophet and high priest (Numbers 16:3)? Korach and his 250 grumblers are swallowed up and killed in an earthquake.
Korach is an interesting rebel. He is a Levite, which makes him one of the privileged elite. Korach also surely knows the Torah describes Moses as the humblest man on earth (Numbers 12:3). This makes it hard to understand why he chooses that specific charge to bring against Moses. Human psychology provides an explanation.
The Talmud states, “One who seeks to disqualify another, projects his own defects upon him.” (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 70a). The Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, the founder of Chassidism; 1698-1760) extends this idea, stating the world acts as a mirror, and we see our own reflections when we look critically at others. Korach’s accusation, then tells us more about himself and his motives than it does about Moses. This is why the classic commentators consider Korach the all-time poster boy for bad Jewish role models: Korach is all about himself.
Leading a community is hard and satisfying everyone all the time is well-nigh impossible. Criticizing communal leaders is easy. Parashat Korach offers a cautionary reminder: what are you saying about yourself when you trash talk your leaders?