Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 218

July 5, 2024 - 29 Sivan 5784

Parasha Korach: Leadership for Today

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you in good health and having enjoyed the Fourth of July holiday.

Today is the 273rd day of Operation Charvot Barzel. This Shabbat, as always, we will dedicate our thoughts and hearts towards the 121 hostages, who remain in Gaza, and pray for our brothers and sisters, who exhaustedly continue to fight for the safety and well-being of our beloved State of Israel.

Please join us this Saturday morning at 10:00 am for Shabbat services, which will be led by Rabbi Joshua Shorr, who will conduct the liturgy and participate in an “Ask the Rabbi” session after Kiddush. Please be sure to introduce yourself and offer him a warm CBIOTP welcome!

We would also like to thank an anonymous donor for sponsoring this week’s Kiddush in honor of the 98th birthday of our friend and synagogue member, Howard Barmad. This is both a Mitzvah and a Simcha, so please join us at the Kiddush table to celebrate Howard.

Friends, do you ever pause and think how amazing it is that the themes in the Torah so often resonate with the current situation of the world around us? This week’s Torah reading is no exception.

This week, we read of the rebellion of Korach, a person who challenges the leadership of Moses. Accompanied by two hundred and fifty “important people” (as well as potentially a secondary group of malcontents headed by Datan and Aviram), Korach accuses Moshe of nepotism through his appointment of Aaron (Moses’ brother) as High Priest in charge of the sacred cult. Cleverly invoking the words of the Torah, Korach bashes Moshe’s leadership and notes that all of the B’nei Yisrael (Jewish people) are holy. Korach then accuses Moses as follows:

וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה :

Why do you raise yourself above the congregation (Bemidbar 16:3)?

Commentators throughout the generations have rallied against Korach’s uprising by suggesting that the impetus for his challenge was not based on what was right for the people, but rather promulgated by jealousy and centered on ego, self-interest, and self-promotion.

Midrash Tanchuma suggests that Korach was disingenuous when asking Moshe about the application of Torah laws. Korach was only proffering probing comments to embarrass Moshe and to undermine the very system of interpretation itself. In a clearly inflammatory voice, Korach quips:

Does the widow have to bring tithe offerings to the Temple?

Does a sanctuary full of Torah scrolls require a Mezuzah at the entrance door?

Does a blue Tallit require a Techeilis (blue fringe)?

Ultimately, Korach’s argument, as is stated in the Mishna of Pirke Avoth, was NOT for the sake of Heaven (Typically, I read the phrase as the argument was not for the greater good.) Some say that the argument was clearly never intended for communally constructive purposes.

Nonetheless, regardless of the motivation, the question that Korach is really asking is centered around the suitability of Moshe for continued leadership. Such a question, no doubt, resonates with us today following last week’s presidential debate.

Friends, whether in the Bible, in a democracy (see France, Israel, or the USA), or even in a synagogue, transitions (or incumbency) of leadership are always critical, demanding the need to be faced respectfully, carefully, and cautiously.

The real question we might want to ask ourselves is, “How do we allow our Torah values to guide our process of evaluation of leadership?”

Humbly, I turn back to the tradition of the Mishna of Pirke Avoth. Therein, Shimon HaTzadik ( Avoth 1:2) outlines a succinct methodology that would be a welcome means through which we should determine confidence in, and selection of, our holy community’s leaders.

שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק הָיָה מִשְּׁיָרֵי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים:

Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great assembly. He used to say: the world stands upon three things: the Torah, service, and the practice of acts of piety.

In any situation, political or religious, approaching choices of leadership requires an unbiased assessment of the leaders’ Torah (that is, their wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and commonsense), sincerity of service (are they in it for themselves or others?) and demonstration of deeds of lovingkindness.

As we approach Shabbat, I pray that all of our selected leaders, in whatever context, are filled with the insights of Torah, such that happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom, health, love, learning, peace, and fulfillment, will always reside in our midst.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon DM.
Tel: 201-562-5277

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