Korach the son of Izhar, the son of Kohas, the son of Levi took along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, descendants of Reuven. They confronted Moshe together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. They assembled against Moshe and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and HASHEM is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above HASHEM’s assembly?” (Bamidbar 16:1-3)
It’s not so easy to figure out what Korach was thinking. By challenging Moshe, he was challenging the authority of HASHEM. Moshe had not decided on his own that his brother Aaron should be elevated to become the Kohain HaGadol. Even if Korach wanted that for himself, who was his protest aimed at? Moshe!? No! He was fighting against HASHEM! Korach must have known that Moshe did not speak on his own or for himself.
Somebody shared an answer with me that since HASHEM tends ear and is responsive to Tzadkim, as it says in Tehillim, “the will of those who fear Him He will do…”, then perhaps Aaron was chosen by HASHEM because this was the wish of Moshe. So, he suspected about Moshe the personal motive that he himself possessed. In psychology this is called projection or as the Talmud pithily states, “Kol HaPosel, B’Mumo Posel!” – “Anyone who finds fault in others, it is with his own fault that he finds fault.” In the street they say, “When you point a finger at someone else, don’t forget that there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
What was Korach’s problem? At the risk of oversimplifying matters, I think it can be reduced to a simple and yet extraordinarily helpful distinction. The statement seems to have gained universal acceptance and use. The Rambam writes that we should accept wisdom from whoever says it. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr became most famous for penning the words that crown every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the like.
It’s called The Serenity Prayer and I have yet to find a problem in or an objection to this statement. It goes like this, “HASHEM grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It could be that most problems that we have or think we have spawned from not “knowing the difference” between what we can change and what we cannot change. Too often difficulties arise when one finds himself courageously trying to change those things that he should be serenely trying to accept, while at the same time serenely accepting those things he should be courageously trying to change.
Kayin had this same problem, way back in the beginning of human history. His brother Hevel improved on something that he initiated and HASHEM gave Hevel a Divine applause for his efforts. Kaiyn did not get the same recognition. “He was very angry and his face fell.” HASHEM enters as the therapist of all therapists and asks him two questions. “Why are you angry and why are you depressed?” These are two opposite emotions. We are angry when someone usurps our power. That means we feel powerful. We are depressed when we feel powerless. So, is Kayin powerful or powerless? He is powerless over his brother’s behavior and HASHEM’s reaction. He is only powerful over himself. His feelings are real but they are plugged into the wrong places.
He is angry against his brother and/or HASHEM over whom he has no control and at the same he surrenders to the only one he is responsible for changing, himself. HASHEM gave him a pep talk and told that he has the option to improve and be equally worthy of an ovation, but it didn’t work out. As the poets sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…” Or as the bad joke goes, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One! But the lightbulb has got to want to change!” Kayin chose rather than improving himself or living with the misery of the status quo to bring his brother down! Not knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change makes all the difference.