Vol. 8 # 35 JN 21-22, '96
Parshas Chukas (in Eretz Yisrael)
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein [email protected]
Rebetzin Devorah Leah Twerski passed away this week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing up, I spent many fond hours in the home of her children, Rav Michel and Rebetzin Feige. We were always amazed with her wonderful kindness, simplicity and sincerity. The Rebetzin passed away at age 95 with well over 200 descendents. May her memory be for a blessing.
Korach: The Challenge of Self-Esteem
At first, it seems difficult to imagine how anyone would be so foolhardy as to rebel against Moshe, who had obvious support from heaven.
Rav Nisan Alpert explained that Korach represents an integral part of human nature. It is "only natural" to expect to be treated in a certain way. A person considers who he is, and how he is used to be treated. When he is not given the regard that he "deserves," he is hurt and offended. Now, how does he react? Some people can live with the perceived offence against their self-respect. Some, however, lash out against the violator of their self-esteem. Because of his wounded self-image, Korach was driven to "defend his honor."
The Chasom Sofer wrote that Korach acted only out of pride, for his own political elevation. No one would listen to him, however, if he had only sought power for obviously egotistical reasons. Therefore, he felt it necessary to raise "philosophical objections."
It is always our attitude that if we fail to understand the characters of the Torah, we will be unable to realize the necessary lessons for our daily lives. Each of us has a Korach within us, the spirit of self-esteem that can easily build religious objections to Moshe's power.
How often it is that the Rav of the congregation is accused of acting out of self-interest. The Chazon Ish decried such accusations; their real effect would only be to damage the entire rule of Jewish Law. According to the accusers, even granting the Rabbi's knowledge and wisdom, there would be no reason to accept his authority, for it is understood that he allows his own personal interest to sway his judgment. But Jewish Law permits the Rav to make legal decisions for himself! He cannot accept bribery, but he is allowed to decide for himself if his own chicken is Kosher. A legitimate Torah scholar will not be swayed for personal interest. Jewish wisdom is not mere knowledge, after all, but is entirely concerned with conduct and application.
Rav Yitzchak Bernstein of England described how it was possible to question Moshe's decisions. As Rashi points out, Moshe's rule was not disputed. No one wanted his position! Nonetheless, how had he chosen his own brother to be Kohein Gadol (High Priest)? Although G-d had clearly agreed with this as well, the original suggestion had come from Moshe. G-d had simply seconded the motion. G-d's approval was not an indication, however, that the choice was ideal. The claim was that Moshe was acting out of self-interest. G-d would anyway agree with him, after the fact -- but he was not acting purely in the interest of the congregation.
Moshe, however, was exactly the opposite of Korach. When he was criticised unjustly by Miriam and Aharon (Parshas Baha'alosecha, Numbers ch. 12), he simply had no response. He said nothing at all. Here the Torah describes the humility of Moshe: Contrary to typical human nature, he had no response to a slight of his honor.
The attitude of Moshe is almost unimaginable. Naturally, a person takes pride in his accomplishments. Who was as accomplished as Moshe? Moshe should have been the proud one -- yet, indeed, he was the most humble.
We would be able to explain the unique character of Moshe in connection with another unique aspect of Moshe: The clarity of his prophecy. The Talmud states that Moshe saw through a clear glass -- the vision of his prophecy was crystal-clear, in contrast with the other prophets. Moshe had beheld such knowledge, had such a universal concept of the truth, that his own honor seemed petty, insignificant.
This, too, does not fully explain Moshe. For the prophet says (Jeremiah 9:22) "Let not the wise man be proud of his wisdom, nor the mighty with his strength...only by this may one be praised -- that he understands and knows Me, that I am Hashem ." Specifically in this regard, would one be able to be proud; yet, Moshe, who had acquired such vast knowledge and understanding, nonetheless remained extremely humble. (Rav N. Cardozo)
Although Moshe's character is so lofty, it seems to us that if we don't strive for his degree of humility, we could easily be prone to the injured self-image of Korach... So we find in Rambam's laws of conduct (Hilchos Deos): although in most areas one should aim for the median -- in regard to humility, one should aim to be extremely humble...
(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97