Thought for Shabbat – June 23, 2017
In the aftermath of God’s decision to allow this generation to die in the wilderness, Korach, Moses’ cousin, has organized a rebellion. He feels that Moses as leader and Aaron as High Priest have too much power and conversely Korach and his friends have none. As a result of his rebellion, Korach and his allies are destroyed. Could there not have been some sort of compromise or power sharing? And what happened to free speech and the right of dissent? Apparently, in the wilderness these things did not exist. Blind obedience was the order of the day. Acceptance of all of God’s choices was to be affirmed without question.But wait. When Abraham and Moses protest to God about God’s choice to kill Sodomites or Israelites, they are praised. Their pleas with God to save others does not benefit them individually, but comes from a moral and ethical desire to save life, even the lives of sinners. So there has to be something else about Korach’s dissent that brings about his demise.
Korach does not point out any major mistakes or misdeeds on the part of Moses and Aaron. They are not doing a bad job. They are following God’s commands. Apparently, the only thing wrong with Moses and Aaron’s leadership role is that Korach wants it for himself. As a Levite and cousin of Moses, Korach feels entitled to greater respect and power. While Korach, who knows he is destined to die in the wilderness, feels like he has nothing to lose, he does not understand the far reaching implications of his grab for power in the aftermath of his rebellion. It is not just he and his 250 co-conspirators who are destroyed, but 14,000 additional people who die as well.
The need and lust for power affects not only those who seek it or use it. The implications of the use and pursuit of power are far-reaching. We learn from this week’s reading that those who seek or use power need to understand who the potential victims are of their exercise of power. They are responsible for all of the effects that emanate or result from their actions. That is what Korach did not understand. His selfish need to obtain power for himself and his cronies failed to take into account the potential damage he might cause not just to himself but to all of Israelite society in the aftermath.
The use of power always has far-reaching effects. When those in power or seeking power narrow-mindedly pursue a policy or act in only the best interests of themselves or their cronies, disaster is sure to follow. May the lesson of Korach be a lesson to all leaders and to all of us as well.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
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