Torah Portion

The 38th weekly Torah portion, “Korach,” tells the story of a rebellion against Moses, led by a man named Korach. What can we learn from Korach?

A small child measures everything by how it makes him or her feel, how it satiates their momentary needs.  Fulfill their desires and you’re “my friend.”  Spurn them, and you’re not.

An adult looks beyond momentary pleasure – and beyond his or her immediate self. The more “adult” one is, the more one considers and accepts others, the more one puts him/herself aside; and gives of himself to others.

Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin

Good parents do not react to children’s rebellion with destructive anger. Rather, they tackle the problem maturely, with the children’s greater good in mind.

A teacher, who responds negatively to a student’s shortcomings, is only too busy with himself.  He must “grow up,” consider and care for the child, on the child’s level.

The bigger the person – the less self-centered.

One of the symptoms of today’s ills is: We’re all busy with ourselves.

In business, at home, with friends, even within family – everyone’s trying to figure out, “What’s in it for me.”

This has negatively affected a practice which has traditionally characterized the Jewish people, that of tzedakah – charity.

The Talmud characterizes the Jewish people as “being compassionate, bashful and loving kindness.” The very nature of our people begs feeling for others, giving without expecting anything in return. Jews were known for giving Tzedakah with passion and compassion – feeling and reacting to a person (or cause) in distress.

That’s a characteristic of maturity.

And indeed, this is the characteristic of a true leader. This in essence, is the content of the Torah reading of Korach, which will be read on Shabbat, on June 16.

Korach challenges Moses and Aaron, “Why do you lift yourselves above the congregation of G-d?” Not that he was agitating for total equality. Quite the contrary. He sought a position of leadership for himself.

And here is how Korach differed from Moses.

Moses’ position was to relate G-d’s instructions to the Jewish people.  He didn’t poll his constituents for their consent, didn’t wait for their cheers. He was a teacher, faithful to his mission, acting in his students’ best interests.

Korach plays the role of the populist. He’s wealthy and suave, he knows how to talk to people and win their acceptance.

Korach shows empathy, but only as long as the people’s interests dovetail with his own. He wins his flock’s adherence, but only to advance his own cause. He caters to his followers, but in a superficial manner. He offers lots of “candy” – immediate gratification.

He doesn’t expend the energy necessary to impart meaning and purpose to his followers’ lives.

Korach’s in it for himself.

But Moses is a different story. Moses you complain to, you scream at, beg from, and just simply take for granted. Like a super teacher – in his classroom, even if you throw spitballs and otherwise turn his life into a living nightmare, he still thinks long-term, he keeps reaching for the core, finding ways to empower his pupils to discover their potential and fulfill their mission in life.

Moses also doesn’t give quick answers and glib solutions. He motivates and helps you find the answer, the truth, the right path.  Deep down, inside of you.

“Enlightened” Korach tells 250 people to die in a “battle” he knows he’ll lose. Why? To enhance his own standing – there’s something in it for him.  But when the chips are down – “didactic” Moses asks G-d to wipe his own name from G-d’s book before wiping out a generation of sinners.

So, “What’s in this lesson for us?”

In our own home, in our workplace, among our friends, all of us are called upon to lead at times. Let’s learn from Moses to be selfless and spurn Korach’s self-centeredness.

* * * * *

By Divine providence, the 3rd of Tammuz, June 16th this year, when we will read in the synagogue the Torah portion of Korach, is the 24th yahrtzeit anniversary of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

One of the Rebbe’s special characteristics was his unique style of leadership. Not only did he lead his flock, but he sought to create leaders. He extracted from his followers the ability to look beyond themselves and to dedicate their lives to serve others.

And he himself set the finest example. Regardless of who you were, and what you wore, he related to you on your own level.

Whether a heartened follower, or one of an opposite point of view, he handled all with care, offered personal counsel, help and blessings.

From all backgrounds, from every corner of the earth, the wise and the simple, the rich and the poor, the traditional or the secular, they were all welcomed and unconditionally loved. They all found in the Rebbe a source of solace and warmth, security and hope.

May we follow in his footsteps, may his legacy be a source of inspiration and his merit a blessing to us all.

Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin is executive director of Lubavitch of Wisconsin.

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