Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
The Need for Leadership
Ostensibly, the thrust of Korach-and-his-men's dispute with Moshe
and Aaron was a challenge for the leadership of the fledgling Jewish
nation. While Moshe's position itself was perhaps beyond debate - the
entire nation having witnessed his unique relationship with Hashem
during the Revelation at Sinai - his choice of his brother Aaron as
Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was, it seems, open to dispute. Was the
selection of Aaron truly the will of G-d, or was it a case of proteksia
A test was devised: Korach and his 250 confederates would each
bring a pan-full of Ketores (incense), as would Aaron. To bring
Ketores unbidden, Moshe explained, is punishable by death. Only the
true "chosen one" would survive the test. Yet, and Rashi raises this
question, weren't the Korach group inexcusably foolish to accept such
a test? After all, even if they were right, only one of them would
survive! Why agree to a test which was sure to bring calamity to the
vast majority of their assembly?
Parshas Yisro begins (Shemos/Exodus 18:1), "And Yisro heard..."
Rashi asks: What exactly did Yisro, father-in-law of Moshe, hear that
caused him to decide to leave the comforts of home and come to
join the Jews in the desert? He heard, says Rashi, about the splitting
of the Red Sea, and about the war the Jews had fought with Amalek
in the desert. The victory over Amalek, while amazing and perhaps
even miraculous, was nonetheless a military accomplishment, dwarfed
in comparison to the many miracles the Jews experienced during the
Exodus and in the desert. What was it about the war with Amalek that
ultimately stimulated Yisro to journey into the desert?
Commentators (see Ma'yana shel Torah quoting Sichos Tzaddikim)
explain that in fact, Yisro had already come to his own understanding
and recognition of Hashem before he came to join Moshe. He had
experimented with other forms of religion and pagan worship, and
found them empty (see Rashi Shemos/Exodus 18:11). Indeed, Yisro
was so convinced of his belief in the concept of one G-d that he felt
his faith was unshakable. Hearing of the great miracles of the Exodus,
especially the splitting of the sea, during which our Sages say "all the
waters of the world also split" (see Rashi Shmuel-2 22:16), only
served to further strengthen and reinforce his faith. He felt no need
for the formality of religion - he would serve G-d on his own.
After hearing, however, of Amalek's attack on Israel, Yisro's was
shaken. How is it possible, he asked himself, that Amalek could be
so foolish as to start up with a nation that had witnessed such
miracles? That he did so forced Yisro to realize and acknowledge that
even the most self-evident truths can be disputed and discarded.
Perhaps, he wondered, my belief too will one day begin to waver.
Whereas he had once been convinced that his faith was immune to
corruption, Yisro now concluded that in order to remain strong in
one's convictions one must have a leader - someone who could guide
him to the path of truth, and alert him if he began to stray. This
prompted Yisro's journey into the desert to join Moshe.
Upon closer examination, it seems that perhaps Korach's challenge
was not simply a lobby for leadership - it was a challenge of the very
concept of authority. "For this entire assembly - all of them are holy -
so why do you presume to elevate yourselves above the
congregation of Hashem?!" We, the Children of Israel, are not an
unsophisticated bunch of simpletons, who will blindly follow your
dictatorial leadership like sheep to the slaughter. Each of us is more
than capable of making our own decisions, and forging our own
paths, thank-you very much. To them, Moshe's contention that only
one of their offerings would be accepted was just further proof of his
short-sighted authoritarian viewpoint. Who's to say that only one
person could offer Ketores before G-d? Why couldn't everyone offer
his very own, personalized Ketores? Needless to say, they were wrong,
and suffered the consequences.
The unwillingness to accept leadership and authority is a major
reason for the state of decay in which we find ourselves today. The
open-minded hyper-cynical value system that permeates democratic
society has presented us with a generation that no longer respects its
elders, teachers, or parents. Little wonder. While it would be nice to
delude ourselves into believing that the pinnacle of moral decency
and enlightenment will be reached when each person is free to make
his own choices and formulate his own value system, the state of
chaos and corruption in which we find ourselves today belies such a
notion. While in our schools and yeshivos students do not yet
(baruch Hashem) come equipped with the latest weaponry, and in
our homes children do not yet threaten to turn their parents over to
the police for a well deserved spanking, the lack of acceptance of
authority and leadership is nonetheless pronounced and undebatable.
May the Almighty protect us.
The Talmud says (Avos 1:6), "Make for yourselves a teacher." The
attack of Amalek and the uprising of Korach are proof enough that
a generation without accepted leadership is destined to turn into a
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored by R'
Zalman Deutsch, in honour of the great Tzaddikim,
Rabbeinu Shlomo Halberstam of Bobov, and Rabbeinu
Klonimus Kalman Epstein of Cracow, author of Ma'or Ve-
Shamesh. And in honour of the marriage of the daughter
of R' Shmiel Lemel. May the zivug be "oleh yafeh."
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.