Rabbi Label Lam
More Tempting than a "Twizzler"!
Jealousy, desire, and honor take the man out of the world. (Chapters of the
One explanation of the above mishna is that jealousy, desire, and honor
escort a person throughout life even till the boundary of life. These are
the driving forces that subconsciously motivate us. When the coroner fills
in "cause of death" it is probably one of these three forces at play if not
all three. "Jealousy" is the emotional challenge we face in confronting
the success of others. "Desire" is the internal struggle we have with our
own impulses and appetites. "Honor" is the struggle between the superior
forces within us, and the entire universe (G-d included) in the struggle
for absolute autonomy.
Let's play the coroner on the "Korach Case". What caused this greatly
intelligent, rich, famous and powerful figure to suddenly fall so quickly
from his lofty pedestal?
Jealousy is a social disease. It comes from a blurring of lines between
self and other and between real needs and perceived wants. An episode of
deadly and seemingly innocuous jealousy arises from an external stimulus,
for example, somebody gets something, that we don't have yet and suddenly
we feel deprived. Till my neighbor redid the kitchen, I didn't know how
small and woefully inadequate my cooking facilities had always been. In the
frustrating case where a particular item or position is in short supply,
then the jealous person is more interested in sabotaging the other who
makes him feel or look bad. We only feel jealous for things that are within
range of achievement, for example, if you graduated in the same class as
someone who has now "made it big" in some way.
Take the case of the two women who came to King Solomon. How did he know
that if he attempted to slice the baby only the real mother would step
forward? He understood, with his great wisdom, that jealousy was working
hard here. The false claimant, who had lost her real baby, was bothered by
the other mother's good fortune. She was less interested in possessing the
child and more interested in dispossessing the real mother.
Korach claimed that Moshe and Aaron usurped leadership. He considered
himself equally worthy and wanted to be the high priest instead of Aaron.
He claimed that the people don't need leaders but he really wanted it for
himself. Does a room filled with Torah scrolls require a mezuzah? Does an
all blue garment need a thread of blue? Do we really need leadership? This
was his rhetoric! "We the people…", but he really meant "me".
One Shabbos night at the table I gave out some "Twizzlers" to each of two
of my boys for knowing the answer to a few challenging questions. They felt
good about the accomplishment and about the reward. One boy gobbled his
licorice in a moment and the other held his high and waved it as a flag.
In a moment of lapse I heard a smack and a cry. I didn't see what happened
but I was able to piece it together immediately. One boy was chewing. One
boy was crying and holding half a "Twizzler". I asked the attacker why he
had stolen half of his brother's candy. It didn't take him a moment of
thought to answer cleverly but wrongly, "I didn't steal. I was
sharing!" As a father, I had to explain a basic distinction that "Sharing"
is when you give something away voluntarily but when you take something
against a person's will that is called "stealing".
In his own sophisticated way Korach was not trying to dethrone Moshe and
risk discrediting the authority of Torah. He was only seeking to share the
power and influence that he thought belonged rightfully to him. Such a
great man was pulled out to sea by the undertow of jealousy.
King Solomon tells us; "Stolen water is sweet." (Proverbs). We all know
that water is not sweet. However, if that water belongs to someone else,
watch out. It may be dangerously attractive, and more tempting than a
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Label Lam and Project Genesis, Inc.