The tragedies and difficulties that befell the Jewish people in the desert of Sinai continue to multiply in the Torah reading of this week. This week’s sad story involves unique personalities affected by human ambition, jealousy and a complete misreading of one’s true role in the family and society.
Korach sees himself as being a far greater person than he really is. He is convinced that he is truly a rival to Moshe and Aaron and is entitled to the same degree of leadership that they enjoy. He is not at all satisfied in being the head of one of the families of the Levites and performing the service in the Tabernacle and Temple. Such false leaders always surround themselves with other malcontents who are also interested in destabilizing the leadership of the people for their own personal, psychological and, many times, financial advantage.
In every society there are those who are dissatisfied with their lot in life. Their frustration translates itself into episodes of anger and the vilification of others, especially of the leadership then present in that society. Revolutions are always popular and those who lead them continually promise a new and better society, a utopia that unfortunately is never realized and usually turns into tyranny and the oppression of others.
Jealousy and disaffection are always with us no matter who our leaders may be and what type of society or social norm currently prevails. This frustration and dangerous arrogance always spawns further frustration as the problem that is to be addressed is a personal one. There are no outside forces or governmental action that can truly solve this inner angst. Truly, we are our own worst enemies.
The punishment visited upon Korach and his followers is their complete elimination from society generally. It is as though the Torah is aware that there is no society or leadership that can really satisfy people who are professional malcontents. It is not only individuals that are swallowed up and extinguished, but throughout history it is recorded that ideas, movements, political parties and immoral social norms are also subject to extinction.
This doesn’t mean that these groupings will never again appear in society. They always do, but they do so in differing forms and morph into changing mores. The Torah itself tells us that even though the original Korach may have been buried and disappeared, the descendants of Korach have not disappeared. Rather, they rise in every generation in different forms, victims of their own inner frustrations, jealous of the accomplishments of others and determined to turn over the entire applecart in order to achieve their own aims.
Human history – and Jewish history is no exception to this phenomenon – is littered with the debris of failed personal ambitions and unnecessary disputes and social divisions. We are bidden to learn and benefit from the mistakes and follies of others. The Torah reading this week certainly has many important lessons to teach us about life, society and human behavior.
Rabbi Berel Wein