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

“And Moses said: From this you shall know the Lord sent me
to do all these deeds; they are not from my heart.” (Numbers 16:28)

Parashat Korach might be the most significant leadership case study in the Torah, but you have to read all the way to the end to understand the beginning. Korach, a Levite, accuses Moses of setting himself above the community (Num. 16:3). He argues 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)? That sounds like a fair question, so why are Korach and 250 others swallowed up and killed in an earthquake (Num. 16:31-33)?

The answer is found at the end of the parasha, or portion, when God tells Aaron, “… Avodat matanah eiten et k’hunatchem, I give your priesthood as a gift of service…” (Num. 18:7) Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the classic 11th century Jewish commentator) explains the priesthood is a gift from God. Lesson one, then, is leadership (the priests are the religious leaders of the Israelite community) is a gift, something received, and therefore a privilege (even if it can sometimes be a burden). Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88; German rabbi and father of modern Orthodoxy) adds: the essence of the priesthood is to serve by giving of oneself to others. Lesson two, then, is leadership means giving.

Now the problem of Korach’s behavior becomes clear. The opening words of the parasha, “Vayikach korach, and Korach took…” (Num. 16:1) reveal Korach’s essential nature: he’s a taker, not a giver. Korach is arrogant; Moses is humble (Num. 12:3) He’s wide-eyed at the power of authority but blind to authority’s obligation to serve. His sense of entitlement is his downfall.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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