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Parashat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

“Moses laid the staffs before God in the Tent of the Testimony.” (Numbers 17:22)

Parashat Korach is perhaps the juiciest leadership parable in the Torah, but you have to dig a little to get the deeper messages. Korach, a Levite, accuses Moses of vanity and of setting himself above the community (Num. 16:3). Despite Moses’ efforts to forestall the rebellion, Korach and his 250 grumblers are swallowed up and killed in an earthquake (Num. 16:31-33).

Korach’s attack on Moses is puzzling, because the Torah describes Moses as the most humble man on earth (Num. 12:3). Avram ben Dov Ber of Mezrich (1741–1776; Chassidic master) explains: the presence of a great tsaddik, or righteous person, can be intimidating and might make someone give in to the yetzer hara, or evil inclination. But Moses knows this and he is mindful not to “crowd” others. So when Moses’ defends himself to God (which surely is unnecessary) and says, “… Do not heed their offering; I have not taken a single chamor, donkey, from them…” (Num. 16:15) Avram ben Dov Ber reads chamor as chomer, which means physical or material. Moses is saying I have been careful not to make anyone give in to material lust. And when Moses continues, “ I did not wrong any one of them.” (Num. 16:15) it means Moses did not damage the unique one-ness within each individual.

Avram ben Dov Ber sees what Korach misses entirely: Moses’ leadership is rooted in his self-awareness and humility. Korach thinks leadership is about power and he grabs for it. Moses is reluctant to assume power because he knows leadership is about empowering others.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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