This week’s Torah portion is one of the more distressing portions in the entire Torah. It begins with a man named Korach, a Levite, who along with Dathan, Aviram, On, and two hundred and fifty Israelites, rise up in revolt against Moses, Aaron and God. The two hundred and fifty are described as “chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute” (Numbers 16:2).
This incident is perhaps the greatest threat to Moses’ leadership of the Israelites. Moses fell on his face in response to their accusations. There is a question as to whether Moses did this deliberately or in a fit of prophecy (Ibn Ezra). However it is clear that Moses was shocked by the insurrection.
Moses then set up a test between himself and Korach. This test involved making an offering to God the following morning. That next morning, God struck down Korach and all the men with him. After this, many of the Israelite people rose up against Moses and Aaron as well resulting in more destruction.
On the surface it is simple to say that Korach represented a lack of faith in Moses’ leadership, in Aaron’s destiny to serve as Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and God’s guidance of the people. However, digging a little deeper, one can get a sense of Korach’s frustrations. He felt, as a kinsman to Moses, that he ‘deserved’ to be in a position of high regard. There was a sense of entitlement and desire for power.
This gets us to the crux of this week’s Parashah (Torah portion). Korach lusted after power simply because he felt it was his right. Moses, on the other hand, never desired power, but instead he accepted it reluctantly.
There are many examples of leaders throughout history some of whom embody this craving for power. They lead, not for the betterment of others, but for the betterment of themselves. However, there are also many examples of Moses throughout history as well. As we seek our own positions of leadership, just as we choose who shall serve as our leaders, our Torah portion is reminding us that the characteristic of motivation is a central part of what makes for a good leader.
May all of our leaders be blessed with the wisdom to think first of those whom they serve. And may that reminder always guide their decisions.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff