Dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Bernstein, in memory of Rebetzin Devorah
Rebetzin Devorah Leah Twerski passed away this week in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. Growing up, I spent many fond hours in the home of her children,
Rav Michel and Rebetzin Feige. We were always amazed with her wonderful kindness,
simplicity and sincerity. The Rebetzin passed away at age 95 with well
over 200 descendents. May her memory be for a blessing.
Korach: The Challenge of Self-Esteem
At first, it seems difficult
to imagine how anyone would be so foolhardy as to rebel against Moshe, who
had obvious support from heaven.
Rav Nisan Alpert explained that Korach
represents an integral part of human nature. It is "only natural" to expect
to be treated in a certain way. A person considers who he is, and how he
is used to be treated. When he is not given the regard that he "deserves,"
he is hurt and offended. Now, how does he react? Some people can live with
the perceived offence against their self-respect. Some, however, lash out
against the violator of their self-esteem. Because of his wounded self-image,
Korach was driven to "defend his honor."
The Chasom Sofer wrote
that Korach acted only out of pride, for his own political elevation. No
one would listen to him, however, if he had only sought power for obviously
egotistical reasons. Therefore, he felt it necessary to raise "philosophical
It is always our attitude that
if we fail to understand the characters of the Torah, we will be unable to
realize the necessary lessons for our daily lives. Each of us has a Korach
within us, the spirit of self-esteem that can easily build religious objections
to Moshe's power.
How often it is that the Rav
of the congregation is accused of acting out of self-interest. The Chazon
Ish decried such accusations; their real effect would only be to damage the
entire rule of Jewish Law. According to the accusers, even granting the Rabbi's
knowledge and wisdom, there would be no reason to accept his authority, for
it is understood that he allows his own personal interest to sway his judgment.
But Jewish Law permits the Rav to make legal decisions for himself! He cannot
accept bribery, but he is allowed to decide for himself if his own chicken
is Kosher. A legitimate Torah scholar will not be swayed for personal interest.
Jewish wisdom is not mere knowledge, after all, but is entirely concerned
with conduct and application.
Rav Yitzchak Bernstein of England described
how it was possible to question Moshe's decisions. As Rashi points out, Moshe's
rule was not disputed. No one wanted his position! Nonetheless, how had he
chosen his own brother to be Kohein Gadol (High Priest)? Although G-d had
clearly agreed with this as well, the original suggestion had come from Moshe.
G-d had simply seconded the motion. G-d's approval was not an indication,
however, that the choice was ideal. The claim was that Moshe was acting out
of self-interest. G-d would anyway agree with him, after the fact -- but
he was not acting purely in the interest of the congregation.
Moshe, however, was exactly
the opposite of Korach. When he was criticised unjustly by Miriam and Aharon
(Parshas Baha'alosecha, Numbers ch. 12), he simply had no response. He said
nothing at all. Here the Torah describes the humility of Moshe: Contrary
to typical human nature, he had no response to a slight of his honor.
The attitude of Moshe is almost
unimaginable. Naturally, a person takes pride in his accomplishments. Who
was as accomplished as Moshe? Moshe should have been the proud one -- yet,
indeed, he was the most humble.
We would be able to explain the
unique character of Moshe in connection with another unique aspect of Moshe:
The clarity of his prophecy. The Talmud states that Moshe saw through a clear
glass -- the vision of his prophecy was crystal-clear, in contrast with the
other prophets. Moshe had beheld such knowledge, had such a universal concept
of the truth, that his own honor seemed petty, insignificant.
This, too, does not fully explain
Moshe. For the prophet says (Jeremiah 9:22) "Let not the wise man be proud
of his wisdom, nor the mighty with his strength...only by this may one be
praised -- that he understands and knows Me, that I am Hashem ." Specifically
in this regard, would one be able to be proud; yet, Moshe, who had acquired
such vast knowledge and understanding, nonetheless remained extremely humble.
(Rav N. Cardozo)
Although Moshe's character is
so lofty, it seems to us that if we don't strive for his degree of humility,
we could easily be prone to the injured self-image of Korach... So we find
in Rambam's laws of conduct (Hilchos Deos): although in most areas one should
aim for the median -- in regard to humility, one should aim to be extremely