Wednesday, June 28, 2006


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

One of the most baffling aspects of Parshas Korach is how Korach and his followers could have so deluded themselves as to believe they could overthrow Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon.

They had just witnessed the disastrous fate of the meraglim who died in a divine plague for badmouthing Eretz Yisroel and inciting the people against Moshe and Aharon. Seeing their fate, shouldn’t Korach and his followers have known better?

The generation of the Midbar witnessed a continuous display of miraculous events under Moshe Rabbeinu’s stewardship. They all knew that Moshe led them out of Mitzrayim. All the yotzei Mitzrayim remembered the years of slavery and Moshe’s and Aharon’s face-offs with Paroh, which were followed by the makkos that wreaked destruction on their enemies.

In the desert they were sustained by a daily delivery of mon from heaven that provided for every member of the nation. The luchos traveled with them wherever they went, reminding them that Moshe had ascended to Shomayim for 40 days and nights before receiving the Torah. Every single Jew in the desert knew that the Shechina appeared to Moshe and spoke to him directly.

The Bnei Yisroel were thoroughly familiar with the two Divinely appointed brothers for years. They owed so much to their leadership. What made Korach and his followers think they could get away with something so outrageous as a direct assault on these exalted leaders?

Rashi on the first posuk of Parshas Shelach explains there is a lesson to be learned from the juxtaposition of the parsha of the meraglim with the parsha of Miriam; namely, that the meraglim should have taken to heart Miriam’s Divine punishment and refrained from slandering the land Hashem promised to the Jewish people.

And if the meraglim are labeled reshaim for not drawing that connection - although maligning a land is not the same as maligning a person - certainly Korach should have realized the danger of speaking ill of Moshe.

If Miriam, who merely gossiped within the family about her brother Moshe - without intending to hurt or undermine him - was harshly punished, who in their right mind would dare risk the fate awaiting someone who publicly slandered and rebelled against Moshe? Korach was not a fool - some even say he had ruach hakodesh - and neither were the members of the Sanhedrin who flocked under his banner. How could they have acted in such a manner?

We often see people we care about engaging in foolish and destructive behavior and wish we could say or do something that will stop them from hurting themselves. From previous experience, however, we know they won’t listen to reason.

Often, the truth is crystal clear for all to see. But that which is self-evident to the entire world is somehow not at all obvious to the actor on the stage. And no amount of elucidation will make it clear.

What could he be thinking to engage in such reckless, irrational behavior, you marvel. The answer is likely that the person was simply not thinking. His actions were divorced from the process of weighing, judging and reasoning things through.

Can it be that Korach, described as a “smart man,” didn’t think things through? It must be that whatever thinking he engaged in was corrupted by his craving for power. He was so jealous of his Levite cousins that his brain ceased to work the way it usually did.

His lust for power so overwhelmed him that he was blinded and became unable to realize what he was doing. He was able to win over followers because they were sucked in by the herd mentality and didn’t think either. Had they thought into it, they would have reached the same conclusion as the wife of On Ben Peles. She analyzed the matter carefully and came to the clear realization that her husband stood to gain not the slightest advantage from Korach’s rebellion. He would be the same Mister Peles no matter who won. She spurred him to this realization and thus he was saved.

It is such a simple deduction, that it is amazing that she was the only one who understood it. They were all so caught up in the moment that they stopped thinking and let their admiration for Korach’s oratory skills blind them. They failed to grasp that it really would make no difference to them who won the machlokes, but that didn’t stop them from jumping on the bandwagon and going along for the ride.

Rabble-rousers like Korach gain a following because people are vulnerable to manipulation, especially when the manipulator makes them feel important and smart. Picture Korach’s followers standing around sniggering as Korach confronted Moshe Rabbeinu with a cynical question designed to make him look foolish: Why should a tallis made entirely of techeiles need tzitzis? he asked. Picture the crowd snickering appreciatively at the brazen Korach.

You know the type; you’ve seen them in action. They sit around mocking everyone and anyone. Like buffoons they take turns ripping people. They laugh and giggle as they zing their one-liners.

And you wonder why they are so negative. What’s in it for them? Why do they derive so much pleasure from knocking others? The answer may be that they really are not thinking. Demeaning others is a form of recreation for them. Ignorant and unable to perform positively themselves, they raise their self-image a notch by treating with derision everyone who is more intelligent or talented than they are.

There is usually one person egging on the others, encouraging them to join him in destroying whoever his target may be that day. If these “bandwagon” fellows would stop and think, they might realize that their leader is motivated by simple jealousy. Maybe they would regret trying to emulate him and his negativity and choose instead to use their lives to spread goodness and kindness.

And it’s not only the silly and lightheaded leitzonim who engage in such behavior. At times, intelligent people err in judgment and jump to a wrong conclusion. They find it impossible to admit their mistake and continue down a slippery slope as they seek to justify their actions. It would be a lot easier to own up to the error, but instead their gaavah forces them to hew to a path which will doom them to failure. They lack the courage to return to the side of the truth. They flail about, critiquing their opponents, rather than taking the more prudent and honest course.

It’s easy to spot the tendency in others to shut down their thinking mechanism. But it’s a lot harder to see that same flaw in ourselves. So many times we get wrapped up in an issue to the point where we can no longer think objectively. So often we are so convinced that we are right that we don’t stop to consider the matter from another angle.

We make terrible mistakes because we suspend our judgment or we don’t think at all; we simply react. Then we compound the error by justifying ourselves. The human capacity for self-justification is boundless.

Before acting, we don’t seek out advice; we don’t discuss things with smart people because we are so brilliant. How many times would we be spared from later agony if we would have realized that teshua berov yo’etz, it never hurts to speak things through with someone we respect.

We get involved in machlokes where we don’t belong because we don’t think about the issues carefully nor do we consider the negative consequences, until it is too late. Then come the brilliant rationalizations that can turn an act of rishus into an act of tzidkus. People let their appetites for glory, power and money cloud their minds. Emotion takes over reason and thinking shuts down.

People are so busy with their lives that they don’t pause to pay attention to what they are doing. They are running all day; they are working till they have no strength to go on; they shop till they drop; their days are full of frenzied, non-stop activity. They leave no time to do any serious thinking, no time to ponder where all their running leads them. They forget what is really important in life; they neglect the ikar and are left with the tofel. We let emotions guide us instead of intellect and Torah.

There are so many aspects to life that merit serious analysis and attention. If we invested more thought into them, we might grasp that some of our actions are worthless or counterproductive, and switch course. And, conversely, we might realize which of our activities can, with more thought and concentration, earn us fulfillment and eternal reward.

Think about it.


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