Emanuel Synagogue

You are a leader in your own right

How do you express leadership qualities in your life?

In which arenas of life are you a leader and in which are you a follower?

What are your aspirations as a leader?

Do you feel gratitude for your role as a leader?

What type of leader are you?

How can you improve your skills as a leader?

These are questions for reflection based on this week’s Torah portion which deals with the rebellion of Korach and his followers as the Israelites journey through the desert. Here is a summary:

Korach, of the Levite tribe, challenges Moses’ and Aharon’s right to lead the Children of Israel. Part of Korach’s argument is to say that all the people are as holy as Moses and his brother. Moses states that it is God who enstated them as leaders and it is actually not Moses’ desire to be a leader at all. Moses challenges Korach by asking him why his status of being a Levite leader is not satisfying enough.

Korach and some of his followers are fated with being swallowed by the earth and the mutiny is thwarted. A plague hits the Israelites and is stopped by a ritual performed by Aharon, the High Priest. Then a sign of Aharon’s rightful place as leader is given when his staff miraculously turns into a budding branch of an almond tree.

How can we understand this enigmatic account?

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings an ancient teaching from Mishnah, about different ways we can challenge and argue:

“Controversy [and argument] for the sake of heaven will come to fruition; whilst controversy which is not for the sake of heaven will not.

Hillel and Shamai demonstrated controversy for the sake of heaven.

Korach demonstrated controversy not for the sake of heaven:.” (Mishnah Avot 5:17)

Rabbi Menahem Meiri of Thirteenth Century Catalonia explains this teaching in the following way:

The argument between Hillel and Shamai: In their debates, one of them would render a decision and the other would argue against it, out of a desire to discover the truth, not out of spite or a wish to prevail over his fellow. An argument not for the sake of Heaven was that of Korach and his company, for they aimed to undermine Moses, our leader and his position, out of envy and contentiousness and ambition for victory.

Other commentators support Korach’s right to question and contest leadership.

The Seer of Lublin, early 19th century Chassidic teacher, stated that even though Moses inspired awe in the people, Korach had the ability to help each person see and realise their own sanctity. He felt he could lead the people in a better way.

Whichever way you look at it, this Torah reading invites each of us to consider the leaders we choose to follow and how they affect our lives.

It also invites us to consider what kind of leaders we are. Each person has an aspect of their life in which they are leaders and this brings a responsibility with it. What kind of leader are you and what do you do to keep improving this important role?

May each of us express our leadership roles in a holy and wholesome way,

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Rabbi Orna Triguboff