Rabbi Reuven Mann
One of the great qualities of the Torah is its complete honesty. It does not pretend that there is such a thing as a “perfect” person who never sins. Thus it reports the failings of even the greatest people. Miriam and Aaron did not escape Hashem’s anger for their unwarranted criticism of Moshe. The spies were righteous men of great distinction and yet committed one of the worst sins recorded in the Torah. There is a sobering lesson that we can learn from this. No one, no matter how spiritually elevated, is immune from sin. This idea is expressed in the statement of the Rabbis, “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.” This means that one should not develop a feeling of confidence in his ability to withstand the temptations that inevitably confront us in our journey through life. The Rabbis also say “Fortunate is the person who worries constantly.” This does not mean that one should always be in a state of neurotic anxiety. Rather it means he should avoid complacency, be cognizant of his weaknesses and always strive to avoid dangerous pitfalls.
This week’s parsha, Korach, recounts the story of a rebellion which threatened to destroy the fiber of Klal Yisrael. Korach, a relative of Moshe accused him of being a corrupt lender who sought to amass power by taking the Kingship for himself and assigning the priesthood to his brother Aaron. Originally the privilege of performing the service in the Beit Hamikdosh was given to the Bechorim (first born). However, as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf Hashem took it away from them and gave it to Aaron and his descendants while the work of assisting them was allocated to the Levites.
Korach was personally offended by his exclusion from the priesthood. He sought to undo the appointments of Moshe by instigating a popular uprising. He presented himself as the enemy of special privilege and the champion of democracy. His slogan was, “The entire congregation is holy and G-d is among them and why do you glorify yourself over the Congregation of Hashem?” On the surface his words were inspiring and appealing. Indeed, they resonated with many others who joined in his revolt. What was his problem? He was convinced by his own rhetoric that he truly was a champion of “equality.” He was guilty of believing in his own earnestness and righteousness. He could not look within and see the true source of his contention with Moshe. He harbored a desire for power and was severely disappointed when he didn’t get the prize. Moshe tried to help him by pointing this out to him. He said, “Is it not enough that Hashem separated you from the congregation of Israel to perform the service in the mishkan…and you seek also the priesthood?” We must never be misled by our own sense of righteousness. We should resist the temptation to come to conclusions about other peoples’ motives based purely on appearances, no matter how compelling. We must always be suspicious of our own motives and have the courage to look within and acknowledge our baseness and perverseness. Self awareness is a vital element in protecting us from actions and accusations which lead to unnecessary contention and sinat chinam. Let us always seek to judge our fellows on the side of merit.