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Posted on June 23, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yaakov Menken | Series: | Level:

As happens every so often, an organization made an innocent mistake and was condemned by those anxious to find fault.

In this case, the organization made the unfortunate choice of quoting one of the most evil figures in modern history. It is recorded that Hitler said that “If you own the children, you own the future.” This statement is, of course, true when you think about it, and considering the way most of Germany was indoctrinated, it is very alarming. And that was why the group used the quote: to scare parents about others trying to influence their own children.

Because the group said this in a politically charged environment, there were many who were happy to find a reason to condemn them. And, of course, quoting Hitler wasn’t the best choice. But it was obvious that they had no bad intent, and certainly were not glorifying evil or expressing antisemitic sentiment. Actually, it is the misuse of antisemitism for political purposes that helps antisemitism to fester, though unintentionally.

I happened to show the quote and describe the situation to Rabbi Dr. David Katz of Baltimore, Rabbi of Beth Abraham Congregation, a professor of Near Eastern Studies, and a popular lecturer on Jewish history (including, of course, the Holocaust). And he immediately drew a connection to this week’s Torah reading.

If you look at the parsha, Korach does something similar against Moshe. Moshe, of course, was entirely righteous and did exactly want HaShem told him to do, including appointing various individuals to positions of leadership.

This included the leadership of the Levite family of Kehas. Kehas had four sons; Moshe and Aharon were the sons of the oldest, Amram. By G-d’s Command Moshe appointed Elitzafan, the son of Uziel, the youngest son of Kehas, to lead that family clan.

And this is what provoked Korach to rebel. As Rashi explains, Korach was the eldest son of Kehas’ second son, Yitzhar, and felt that he had been passed over. But he knew that it would look petty, and his own bad motivations would be obvious, were he to complain about the appointment of Elitzafan and claim that he should be appointed leader of the family.

Instead, Korach attacked the leadership of Moshe himself. Yes, it was true that Moshe had led the entire nation from Egypt, and had done miracles, but now Korach claimed that Moshe had done so for his own self-glorification: “…an entire congregation, all of them holy, and Hashem among them; so why have you elevated yourself over the congregation of G-d?” [16:3] This is how Korach was able to convince leaders from the tribe of Reuven, the oldest of Yaakov’s sons, to join his rebellion—because those descendants of Reuven resented the leadership given to the sons of Levi.

As we see, none of it was genuine. Korach and the sons of Reuven wanted the honors distributed in different ways; all they shared was the desire to find fault with Moshe’s leadership. Moshe, for his part, had done nothing wrong.

Builders are not those anxious to find fault, to ascribe the worst of motivations to good people. It is sadly common today, especially in political battles, for those on one side to find an excuse to call an opponent evil. It’s much easier to tar than to engage in a civil debate over ideas, especially for those with weak arguments. As Korach shows us, this is a trend with an old and dark history.

In the Chapters of the Fathers, we learn: judge every person favorably. That clearly includes those with whom we disagree!