Parashat Hashavua

Drash on Korach - Rosh Chodesh 1 Tammuz

Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth
Emanuel Synagogue
Woollahra, New South Wales

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned in the Navy is the idea of not complaining about something unless you are prepared to offer a tangible solution. Complaining for the sake of complaining is detrimental to morale and counterproductive. It may make you feel better in the short term, but in the long run will only ruin any positive feelings or incentive to improve, and also go on to create a toxic culture where the goal is to tear down others and not to build.
 
Much ink has been spilt attempting to explain where Korach went wrong. Many agree that he had good people skills and great charisma, yet there is also almost universal consent that he was a horrible leader. One only look at the outcome to see the point so explicitly made.
 
How can this be? He instilled the loyalty of 250 people to go against perhaps the greatest leader, Moses. Could he really be so terrible?
 
Leadership is not simply about having followers. That perhaps is the easiest part of being a leader.
 
The harder part is developing a vision, a reason for people to follow you. Korach’s vision is simply to not be Moses, or more accurately, to call out Moses for consolidating power, while offering no tangible solution. One cannot articulate a vision by defining what you are not or against. Looking at the text, Korach’s main complaint is: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves over Adonai’s congregation?” (Num. 16:3). There is no plan, there is no alternative, simply that Moses shouldn’t have all the power. What kind of vision is that?

Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 5:15 teaches us, “Every dispute which is for the sake of heaven, in the end it will endure.  And every one which is not for the sake of heaven, in the end it will not endure. Which is a dispute for the sake of heaven?  The dispute of Hillel and Shammai.  And which is not for the sake of heaven?  The dispute of Korah and his congregation.”

What was Korah’s dispute?  Ostensibly, it was for Moses and Aaron to share the leadership, a very worthy cause.  So why then do the rabbis condemn it as a dispute not l’shem shamayim (not for the sake of heaven)?

Rambam (the famous Medieval biblical commentator, philosopher and physician) sheds some light on what this type of dispute might mean.  In his commentary on the Mishna, he teaches that those who cause disputes not with the intention of causing trouble, but instead to seek the truth, their words will stand and their ideas will not be cut off. Therefore, according to Rambam, Korah must have been more interested in causing a dispute rather than finding ultimate truth. The implication then is that a dispute that is for the sake of heaven endures precisely because it has uncovered truth. Ultimate truth is enduring and if Korah wasn’t actually interested in finding truth, but rather simply in making a problem for Moses, then his rebellion was not for the sake of heaven.
 
This is evidenced by his complete unpreparedness or unwillingness to offer any alternative. His leadership was totally devoid of any vision or inspiration. One wonders then how he was able to inspire 250 people to follow him.
 
I pray that we find the strength to put forth our thoughts and complaints in a positive light and at the same time be able to offer a possible solution to any problems we perceive. Anyone can offer an objection. A true leader with vision offers a way forward. For the sake of heaven, I pray that we take seriously the obligation to pursue disputes in an open and honest way, seeking that ultimate truth, as Hillel and Shammai, and not like Korah.  That we call out those that seek to undermine that search for truth.

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