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We Need To Give Credit Where Credit Is Due (Korach – 06/16/18)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

We Need To Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
This past week there was much to fret about in the news: Tariffs possibly wreaking havoc and the painful separation of immigrant children from their parents.  On the other hand, our President accomplishing something not done in 65 years; he initiated a peace agreement with North Korea.
It’s seems that Trump’s “fire and fury” hardball politics and insulting Kim Jung Un by calling him “Rocketman” paid off.  Like two athletes “trash talking” each other on the field, Trump gained the respect of Jung-Un, and they’re working out a disarmament deal.  Trump’s even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
I find it fascinating that this event happened during the reading of Parshat Korach, the parsha where we find the first legitimate questioning of Moses’s legitimacy.
וַיִּקַּ֣ח קֹ֔רַח בֶּן־יִצְהָ֥ר בֶּן־קְהָ֖ת בֶּן־לֵוִ֑י……וַיָּקֻ֨מוּ֙ לִפְנֵ֣י
רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם השם וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ ע:
“And Korah took 250 of the leaders of the Children of Israel, and they stood before Moses saying, ‘You have too much! For the whole congregation is holy, and God is among them, why do you raise yourself over the Congregation of God?’”
How come Moshe and his family have all the power and privileges? Korach is claiming nepotism:
  • Moses is the equivalent of a king, even thought that privilege was promised to the descendants of Judah.
  • Aharon, his brother, is the Kohein Gadol, High Priest.
  • Moses’s nephews are the deputy priests and have total control over the tabernacle.
  • Even Moshe’s sister, Miriam, is the chief prophetess and the one in charge of the women.
The Midrash embellishes Korach’s rebellion, saying that when he was griping about nepotism to his 250 esteemed friends at a banquet of his, Elazer and Itamar (Moses’s nephews) come along and say, “Nice meal guys, where’s our tongue and front leg?”  Korach replies, “Who said you can have this?  First you take the terumah tax (2%) from the Israelites, then trumat Maaser tax (10%) from us Levites, now this!? This is a fix, all nepotism!!! Moshe’s a liar!”
In hindsight we know that Korach was improperly accusing Moses and God defends Moses’ honor.  But Korach has a point.  It’s seems as though Moses’ family took it all.
In fact, there’s so much confusion in this parsha, that it seems as though everyone generated a complaint.
  • The Firstborn want their priestly privileges back.
  • The tribe of Reuben, as Jacob’s firstborn, want their privileges back.
  • Korach, a Levite, and 250 other esteemed leaders want to be Priests.
Even if Moses is innocent, and did everything according to God’s will, there is legitimate reason for the others to be disgruntled.  Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759 –1841), known as the Yismach Moshe (after the name of his book), was the Rebbe of Ujhely in Hungary.  A renowned holy man and miracle worker, he was responsible for bringing Hasidism to Hungary.
He was said to have known his three prior gilgulim (“incarnations” in Kabbalistic terminology), saying that in his first incarnation he had been a sheep in Jacob’s flock, in his second incarnation he lived in the time of Moses and Korach, and in his third incarnation he lived during the time of the destruction of the first Temple.
He was once learning the story of Korach in the Torah with his young grandson, the Yetev Lev (the name of his book), and the boy made a comment showing that he didn’t think much of Korach, who rebelled against Moses.  At that point the Yismach Moshe admonished him saying that we have no understanding of the greatness of Korach.  In fact, added the Yismach Moshe, he himself was a gilgul from then, and he himself had not been sure whom to follow, since it seemed to be a valid argument between the two greatest men of the generation.  The famed Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, a scion of the Yismach Moshe, added that his great-great-grandfather told the Yetev Lev that the leaders of the Sanhedrin, the Israelite High Court, supported Korach, while the common people sided with Moshe.
His grandson then asked him, “If so, what did you do and how did you save yourself?” The Yismach Moshe answered, “Not wanting to be part of the argument, I ran into my tent and closed the entrance tightly.  I refused to come out until it was all over.”
Whether the Yismach Moshe is pulling our leg or being truthful, he’s teaching us that most arguments are not simple.  It wasn’t simple for Lincoln to free the slaves, nor is there a simple solution to solving gun control or to handling the immigrant problem.  If God hadn’t openly intervened, who knows if the Korach issue wouldn’t have ended differently?
It’s sometimes easy to paint our politicians and leaders as Korachs and Moseses, but as the Yismach Moshe pointed out, it wasn’t clear during the argument who was right and wrong.  There were valid points on both sides.
Whether you believe Trump is a Moses or a Korach, let’s give him his due with regards to North Korea.  For the correct path is not always clear, and you never know when a fellow can go ahead and earn himself a Nobel Prize.

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