The Midrash goes to great lengths to extol the virtues, greatness and
importance of Korach. It naturally does so in order to place into
juxtaposition the foolishness and meanness of his behavior towards Moshe
and Aharon, behavior that leads to his destruction. Yet, in describing the
greatness of Korach – a leader of the tribe of Levi, one of the bearers of
the holy Ark, the wealthiest man in Israel, a close relative of Moshe and
Aharon – the Midrash is probing to discover the great fault and flaw in
his character that eventually dooms him to destruction.
On the surface at least, there is little that separates him from Moshe and
Aharon. His claim to leadership apparently has enough merit to it that
hundreds of leading Jews join him in his complaint against Moshe’s rule.
His populist slogan, that all of the people are holy and worthy and Moshe
has no right to rule over them in a single-handed fashion, resonates
amongst the Jews. If all of this is the case then what is Korach’s
problem? Why does his seemingly justified stance lead to such an abysmal
downfall? What trait of Jewish leadership is he so lacking that its
absence negates all of the positive qualities that seem to surround him?
The simple answer to this question is provided in rabbinic writings,
especially in the works of the great Chasidic masters as well as in the
teachings of the men of Mussar. And that answer is that Korach is
destroyed by his own hubris, He never doubts his holiness, he is smug in
his righteousness, and he sees himself as being almost infallible. He is
confident that God will follow Korach’s plans, for how can it be
otherwise? He is so convinced of his rectitude that he actually believes
the inner voice that propels his quest for power and station is, so to
speak, God’s voice instructing him to rise up against Moshe’s rule.
The Torah taught us a few weeks ago that Moshe was the most humble and
modest human being on earth. Moshe’s refrain, even in this crisis with
Korach, is that he and Aharon are nothing. Moshe has no opinion of his
own - he is only the faithful servant of God. Jewish leaders require self-
confidence. But they should never confuse this confidence with
infallibility. Even after decisions have been made and policies actually
executed, the leader must review his plans and ideas. He must always ask
what does God want of me rather than what do I want of God. The essential
difference between Korach and Moshe is reflected in their approach to this
The rabbis in Avot warned us not to trust ourselves in our holiness and
piety even to the last day of our lives. Self-righteousness breeds
arrogance and hubris, which in turn spell disaster for the individual and
the community. Modesty and humility can temper hasty and ill-advised
policies and decisions. All of the Jewish people may be, in the words of
Korach and his supporters, holy people. But unfortunately not all of them
are blessed with the quality of modesty and true self-analysis that alone
can save otherwise great people from unforeseen disaster.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
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