ParshaKorach Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum July 1, 2006 5 Tammuz 5766
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, the author of the book, "Kosher Sex" was on this week’s Oprah Winfrey show. How appropriate that this comes at a time when we are discussing effective leadership in this week’s parsha. Rabbi Boteach claims that Oprah is a prime example of someone who has used her power and influence to better the world. Rabbi Boteach, whose own mission includes universal harmony by conflict resolution, influences untold numbers of Jews and non-Jews alike, through his new TV Show Shalom in the Home.
In this week’s Parsha, Korach, we learn the consequences of poor leadership versus honorable leadership. Korach, a first cousin to Moses, Aaron and Miriam is envious of their positions of leadership, claiming it was not G-d appointed, but self appointed. Korach gathers two hundred and fifty of the top leaders and rebels against Moses.
Korach is no ordinary citizen. He was a very successful and wealthy man in his own right. He had a reputation of being honorable and intelligent. Korach was one of the carriers of the Holy Ark hence why would such a reputable leader do such a foolish thing? How did Korach arrive at such a lowly level? How did this happen?
Envy, Jealousy, Overachievement. In the end, Korach and his family are severely punished for causing so much divisiveness and aggravation to the Jewish nation. Korach knew the importance of being a "team player" and the benefits of unity, especially so soon after receiving the Torah. His selfishness destroyed the communal environment. Korach, and his followers, fell into the trap of greed, vanity and covetousness. Actually, they literally fell into the trap. G-d opened up the mouth of the Earth, caused an earthquake and consumed Korach, his families, his riches and those of his followers.
The betrayal by his own mishpacha (family) caused great heartache to Moses. There is a song written by the famous English group, the Beatles. The lyrics, written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr go like this. "What goes on in your heart? What goes on in your mind? You are tearing me apart, when you treat me so unkind. What goes on in your mind? This must have been what Moses was thinking about his own first cousin Korach. Mutually, Korach and Moses were highly respected leaders. The biggest difference was that Korach’s leadership was based on his own desires and benefits, whereas Moses’ leadership was always focused on the good of the entire Jewish nation. Korach’s desire for more power and more control superseded any good he could have contributed to the rest of the nation. His jealousy of Moses’ position consumed him literally.
The Ten Commandments teach us: "Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his donkey, or any thing that is thy neighbor’s." Our sages too, speak often and openly about jealousy. Proverbs 14:30 reads "A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; but envy is the rottenness of the bones."
In Song of Solomon, 8:6 "jealousy is cruel as the grave; the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a vary flame of the Lord." The sages warns that jealousy and anger will shorten a life. They concur, "The days of the jealous are numbered."
New York Times journalist, Shira Boss, in her new book, "Green with Envy: Why Keeping up with the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt" (Warner business books, 2006) discusses the economical and psychological reasons behind jealousy between neighbors and family. Boss, a self-reporting yuppy, goes into great detail about the detrimental effects that comparing and competing within our society causes to population.
Pirkei Avos also lists envy among the three things that can destroy a person. In Ecclesiastes 4:4, King Solomon speaks about the meaningless of envy and overachievement, "Again, I considered all labor and all excelling in work, that it is man’s rivalry with his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after a wind."
In a new film comedy "Keeping Up With the Steins," whose promotional subtitle is "The Guide to Competitive Bar Mitzvahs," it takes the innocence of a young 13-year old boy to bring perspective to two families competing for the biggest and most outrageous Bar Mitzvah party. While one rents an entire Cunard Lines cruise ship, the other rents out Dodger Baseball Stadium with a personal performance of Hava Nagila by singer Neil Diamond. Without giving the movie’s ending away, the crux of the story is how a young Bar Mitzvah boy brings unity between his father and his estranged grandfather.
We know that when people pull together for the common good, which is what Moses was trying to accomplish, everyone is elevated and everyone benefits. In this week’s edition of Newsweek, "the feature story covers the winners of the "Giving Back" Awards, 15 people who make America great. The article describes fifteen brave and generous men and women who have used their influence, fame, fortunes, hearts and souls to enhance the greater good. Unlike Korach’s approach to leadership, G-d wants us to give back to society. Giving back in forms oftzedakah (charity) and helping to repair what is wrong in the world are mitzvoth which are commanded to do. Society looks up to those who return their good fortune to help others.
Moses did not operate from a position of narcissistic power. In fact, quite the contrary, he petitioned G-d over and over that he did not want the responsibility. However, G-d insisted that it was to be under Moses’ leadership that the Jewish Nation would reach their destination.
In the June issue of the Harvard Business review, there is an excellent article entitled, "Leadership run Amok" which speaks about the destructive potential of overachievers and what drives people towards success. There are two kinds of power, the article relates. Personalized power and socialized power. Personalized power, Korach’s version of leadership, stems from trying to control or manipulate others and seeking to forward one’s own interest and reputation. Socialized power, on the other hand, focuses on the team or the group first. This was Moses’ style of leadership, where he used his power to give support and advice to the Jewish Nation, not establish a foothold for himself and his family. This type of leadership generates a strong, positive, cohesive team, whether it is a football team or an entire nation.
G-d has bestowed on us the honor of being "a light unto the nations." He has also given us the power of choice. We can decide to lead with our intelligence, heart, and soul, as Moses, to contribute something powerful and positive to our communities and to the world or we can choose to lead as Korach; looking out only for the good we can gain personally.
May G-d grant us the seychel (wisdom) to distinguish between personal and worldly gains. May we emulate the leadership style of Moses. Shabbat Shalom.