This Shabbat’s D’var Torah was given by Rabbi Carl
In Shelach Lecha, last week’s Torah portion, Moses comes up against 10 out of the 12 scouts who have just returned from checking out the Promised Land. They bring a negative and discouraging report. We cannot win against against the giants in the land!
This week Moses’ leadership is challenged again, by Korach and his followers. They accuse him of being a demagogue, misusing his power and authority. It turns out that Korach and his followers are the true demagogues, hungering for power, not based on an alternative and possibly positive vision of leadership. They simply want Moses out, because they want to be in.
Rashi (1035-1104) explains that Korach, like all who crave power for its own sake, uses beguiling oratory, not truth, to seduce the people of Israel. The Hebrew text says “Mashach B’dvarim”- “He drew them to him with words.” He built himself up by tearing Moses down. How is it that the people of Israel who had witnessed Moses’ effective leadership and God’s power at the Red Sea and Sinai could succumb to Korach’s guile?
Nahmanides, like Rashi, another medieval commentator (1194-1270) says that at any other time the people would have stoned someone who questioned Moses’ authority. Korach’s attempted coup, however, came right after the frightening report of the spies. Our people, still struggling to rid themselves of their slave mentality, consequently fearful and vulnerable, were ripe for exploitation by Korach. He took advantage of their weakened state until God stepped in to rescue Moses by making Korach and his followers disappear.
Tal Becker, distinguished Israeli political thinker said that at conferences on Israel, each speaker typically describes the situation in Israel as worse than the speaker before him described it. Becker would say that we must acknowledge when things are bad and be realistic about it, but a wholly negative mindset weakens us, makes us vulnerable and plays directly into the hands of those who, like Korach, would harm us. Becker asserts that we must embrace and project a “sovereign state of mind”, which means a positive outlook of empowerment and self confidence when faced with the many Korachs of the world.
On a more personal level, the portion of Korach also reminds us that when we are in relationships of any kind, whether as spouses, parents, children, and particularly toward or as leaders, we should never exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Likewise we must be vigilant when others try to exploit our weaknesses. The good path in life is to define ourselves by what we stand for in positive terms, not by what might be lacking in others.