From the Acting Head of Jewish Life
Following the Leader
This week in assembly, Mr Watt spoke of leadership; of choosing wise leaders by choosing wisely. Our parasha this week, Korah, is all about just that. Leaders, wannabe leaders and why people are chosen to be, strive to be, fight to be or shy away from becoming leaders.
On the face of it, Korah does in fact have a valid argument when he faces-off with Moshe and Aharon, exclaiming that ALL of the Jewish People have been identified by God as a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy Nation, and that all have the ability to be prophets, as we learned from the Torah a few weeks ago. Indeed, he would have had more than a leg to stand on, had that actually been what he, and his cohort, were fighting for – for the right of every member of Bnei Yisrael to have a place in leadership, should they choose to, based on skills, merit and virtue rather than by “nepotism” as claimed by Korah and Co.
So, what about this claim made it such a big deal that Korah and his main henchmen were literally swallowed up by the earth, never to be seen or heard from again?
It turns out, when we look a bit more closely, that each of the different factions of the cohort had different reasons for staking a claim to the leadership:
וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן־יִצְהָר בֶּן־קְהָת בֶּן־לֵוִי וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וְאוֹן בֶּן־פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן׃ וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד אַנְשֵׁי־שֵׁם׃ וַיִּֽקָּהֲלוּ עַל־מֹשֶׁה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב־לָכֶם כִּי כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם יְהֹוָה וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל־קְהַל יְהֹוָה׃
Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took himself along with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliab, and Ohn son of Pelet – descendants of Reuben, to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They gathered against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?” (Bamidbar 16:1-3)
First, you have Korah, a man already part of the elite tribe of Levi; the only tribe permitted to carry out the holy Temple duties. Yet he wanted more power. Not only did he want to be one of the Kohanim, but he also wanted a shot at the top positions, the High Priesthood even. Yet he desired this not so that he could be more closely in service to God, work harder to serve the people, but so that he would have the title, the prestige and the seeming power that would come with the Kehunah, the Priesthood.
Then, you have Datan and Aviram, who believed that they should have power too – or instead of the Levites and Kohanim – as they were descended from the tribe of Reuben, who was the eldest son of Jacob and so, in their minds, should have birthright and authority over leadership.
And, finally, we hear about the 250 followers who joined the flock around the leaders. These weren’t just rabble or riff raff, looking to pick a fight. These were chieftains in the community, who had strong reputations as leaders in their own right. And yet, this wasn’t enough. They wanted more power; not to lead for the betterment of B’nei Yisrael, but for their own aggrandisement.
Here, rather than considering who might be the most worthy of the leadership roles due to either God’s choice or due to their desire to work for the betterment of the community, Korach, Datan, Aviram and the community leaders clamoured for power, prestige and recognition. They were only working together to gain power, otherwise they had no common cause and their collaboration would likely not have lasted long.
It would have been utterly disastrous for B’nei Yisrael to have these self-focused leaders as they stepped away from the nomadic desert life, protected and cared for by God, over the threshold into the land promised to their forefathers where they would need to establish a just and constrictive society, mostly led by people rather than Divinity – and so they are simply wiped off the face of the earth, to quash any other selfish lusting for power.
Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and have a wonderful winter break.