Korach and the Secret of Real Jewish Leadership

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What does it mean to be a Jewish leader? We are a Nation that have so many  leaders, and yet sometimes it seems like we have no idea where we are going. This weeks Torah portion centers around the struggle for Jewish leadership in the Desert of Sinai. The newly born nation is not just arguing over leadership, but struggling between the foundational ideas of who we are going to be, now that we are going to be a free people in our land.  A man by the name of Korach ben Izhar from the tribe of Levi challenges the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron haKohein .

There is a funny joke among Oliim (immigrants to Israel), “what common Israeli names do you name your kids to make sure they will never move back to America? Osnat, Nimrod, or Moran.”

One thing is for sure, you would be hard pressed to find a Korach in most Jewish Communities today. I have never met one. Korach is among the least admired characters in all of the Bible. But the truth according to our sages was that he was actually very holy.

The Izbitser Rebbe asks, everything in the Torah is true right? Well it says in the Torah that Korach said all of the Jewish People are holy! The Torah says it, so that means that Korach really believed it. He looked at every single Jew as holy. What an level. Imagine being in the place where you can see every Jew as holy. Maybe every Jew who believes EXACTLY like I do, but every Jew? Come on!

Also the Arizal says that after Mashiach comes, Korach will be the Kohein Gadol, the high priest. Tzaadik katamor yiphrach, it says in psalms, A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.  Says the Arizal, if you take the last letters of  the verse, it spells KoRaCH.

So why didn’t Korach have what it takes?

One of my absolute favorite Chassidic commentaries, the Toras Emes (intentionally spelled like that) by the great master Reb Leibeleh Eiger gives a beautiful insight, not just into the event in the Torah, but the nature of leadership. It has got to be in my top five favorite torahs of all time. I am so excited to share it with you.

Reb Leibeleh asks the question, why does G-d refer to the “man whom I will choose”? It should have said, “the man whom I have chosen.” G-d already chose Aaron to lead the Jewish People! G-d is going to change his mind if someone makes a better case for the job? Crazy, impossible!

Says the Rebbe, Reb Leibeleh, What made Aaron worthy to be a leader of the Jewish People was the fact that this is how he saw himself. Because he was chosen in the past, this did not give him the piece of mind, or the certainty in his heart that he was going to remain someone who was chosen. He saw himself as having to be worthy to be chosen every single moment, he saw his being chosen to be High Priest not as an event that happened in the past and now he can settle into an easy job, but as a dynamic ongoing process of being chosen. Sure G-d chose me before, but He felt I was worthy before to lead His people. I may not be worthy today. Yesterday I was the High Priest, today I may be chosen to be a street cleaner.

What makes this so important? We are after all the Chosen People right? This is a very difficult concept for some people, and understandably so. Let’s face it to the modern sensibility it does sound, at very least elitist. And you know what? It may very well be, if you see the choseness of our people simply as an historic event. We were chosen, so now we can put a sign up on our door, “The Chosen Ones” and settle into our cushy tenure-ship. No way. Says the Reb Leibeleh, we have to see ourselves as being chosen in every moment. Every time we light Shabbat candles, or make kiddush, or learn Torah, we need to say please G-d make me worthy right now, choose me, make me worthy to be a Jew, make me worthy to be a parent, make me worthy to be a husband, to be a friend.

Sixty five years ago, G-d gave us an opportunity to come home again.  Are we building this State, simply because we deserve it, or because of the potential of what this Nation could be for the whole world. It depends on choice.  What are we as a Nation going to CHOOSE to do with it.

This is how Aaron haKohein lived every second of his life, and this is what made him a leader of the Jewish people.

But one more thing says Reb Leibeleh. What does it mean that “his staff will blossom”? What is a staff? It is something that is already finished, its done. It is not something that is still alive, It is a piece of dead wood. It is cut off from it source of life. The staff represents Judaism. How do you know if someone is a true leader? Is the Judaism that they are holding onto, done, finished, dead, irrelevant, cut off from it’s source, or is it bursting forth with life? In the hand of someone with the leadership traits of an Aaron haKohein, you see life bloom. You constantly see newness, and this is what leader is meant to be.

This was the lesson that G-d was teaching Korach. Aaron was not chosen because he comes from a good family, or he was the smartest, or he networked the best, it was that in every single moment of his life he was begging G-d, make me worthy in your eyes right now to lead your people.

Do you know what the ultimate Jewish leader is? A parent. As parents we need to beg G-d every minute, every second, make me worthy to care for the special souls that you are entrusting to me. Let me teach my son a Judaism that is alive.

May we all be blessed to never ever see our connection to being Jewish as something that is finished, something to put on a shelf or rest against a wall, but always, every moment as something blossoming with newness, connected to its source, and bursting forth with life.

Shabbat Shalom

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