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Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz: Blinding Ego

yated_logo2.jpgOne of the most difficult aspects to understand in Parshas Korach is how Korach and his followers could have so deluded themselves to believe that they could overthrow Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohein.

All of Bnei Yisroel 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 succession of supernatural events as they traveled under the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. 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, followed by the makkos which wreaked destruction on their enemies.

In the desert, they were sustained by a daily delivery of monn 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 from between the keruvim.

The members of Bnei Yisroel were thoroughly familiar with the two Divinely appointed brothers for so many years by now. 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 Moshe and Aharon?

Rashi on the first posuk of Parshas Shelach explains that 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.

You would imagine that if the meraglim are labeled resho’im 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 slanders and rebels 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 so brainlessly?

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 this person and no amount of explaining will help. You wonder, what could he be thinking to engage in such reckless, irrational behavior?

The answer is likely that the person’s ego prevailed and his thinking process was taken over. 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 Levi cousins that his brain ceased to work the way it usually did.

His lust for the limelight so overwhelmed him that he became blinded by its glare and was unable to recognize that he was digging his own grave. He was able to win over followers because they were sucked in by the herd mentality and didn’t think either. Had they thought about what they were doing, they would have reached the same conclusion as the wife of On Ben Peles. She analyzed the matter objectively and came to the immediate realization that her husband did not stand to gain the slightest advantage from Korach’s rebellion. He would be the same On Ben Peles no matter who won. She spurred him to this insight; thus he didn’t join the machlokes and was saved.

It is such a simple deduction. The thing that is actually amazing is that she was the only one of the bunch who understood it. They were all so caught up in the moment that they stopped thinking and became intoxicated by Korach’s oratory. They failed to grasp that it really would make no difference to them who won the machlokes, but Korach made them feel good as he played to their egos. They enjoyed as he poked fun at the people in power. It justified their existence to berate the people who actually made a positive difference in the lives of the members of Klal Yisroel.

Rabble rousers like Korach gain a following because people are vulnerable to manipulation, especially when the manipulator makes them feel important and smart. Korach’s followers stood around smiling 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. A person might have spent his entire life in selfless public service and then along comes a cynic and humiliates him publicly. The person is caught off guard and can’t respond. He stands there with his mouth agape as the vacuous buffoons applaud their leader.

And you wonder why they are so negative. Don’t they realize all the good this well-meaning person has done all the years? Why knock him down? What’s in it for them? Demeaning others becomes a form of recreation for them. Ignorant and unable to perform positively themselves, the only way they can enhance their own self-value is by treating with derision everyone who is more intelligent or talented than they are. The leaders are quite often motivated by simple jealousy.

It’s easy to spot the tendency in others, 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 may make terrible mistakes by suspending our better judgment or not thinking at all, and just reacting. Then we compound the error by justifying ourselves. The human capacity for self-justification is boundless.

Too often, we are like Korach, getting caught up in a machlokes where we don’t belong. Our egos push us there and then, as we start failing, we begin rationalizing and suspend all rational thinking.

People let their appetites for glory and money cloud their minds. Emotion takes over reason and thinking shuts down.

Moshe was the most humble of men, seeking nothing for himself. Aharon was the ultimate man of peace. Yet the jealous leaders mocked them and turned their own people on them with simplistic attacks on the greatest of men to ever walk the planet.

Beware of the polished speaker who goes after the man whose actions speak louder than his words. Beware of joining the group which finds fault in everyone all the time. Look to follow people who are optimistic and seek to build you up, not tear you down. Real leaders optimize their followers. They seek to maximize their opportunities and potential so that they can lead productive and meaningful lives.

A proper leader provides goals for his people to reach. He motivates them to strive higher and higher. He encourages them to dream of attaining mighty feats. He encourages them to be courageous in following the truth and fighting for it. He sets out for them right and wrong in clear terms and teaches them how to tell them apart. He lifts people up and encourages his followers to do the same.

He spends his life helping people grow and accomplish through acting selflessly.

An imposter will rip people down constantly and encourage his people to be negative and cynical. He won’t provide them with legitimate goals and will rob them of any sense of accomplishment. A wanna-be will concentrate on destroying respect for authority so that he can rule over his minions.

Korach lies in the ground screaming, “Moshe emes v’Soraso emes,” but his spirit lives on in the hearts of malcontents who deride everything good. Beware. Stay away from them.

In this world, there are wicked people. They appeal to you to join their team and win you over with charisma and empty promises. You don’t realize it until later, but they really couldn’t care less about you, or anyone else. All they want is to advance their own personal career.

They look at everyone they encounter in this world as someone who can help them make more money and become more powerful. Once they have no use for them anymore, they spit them out and go on to the next guy.

We need to pity such people and make sure we don’t fall into their clutches. We have to remain faithful to our true leaders and teachers and be strong and not let ourselves be manipulated by their sweet talk and promises.

We have to hew to sifrei mussar so that we are driven by our seichel and not by our gaavah; so that Torah remains our guide in all we do and we don’t get swept up by the havlei hazeman. Torah is the tree of a productive, content, happy life. All else is but temporary glitter sure to tarnish. They sparkle and tempt us, but we must remember that in the end they will lead to destruction and churban.

Let us learn the lessons that Korach and his followers didn’t learn until it was too late.

© 2007 Yated Neeman.

3 Responses

  1. Reb Pinchos,
    Very well said. I know a few people who would cut a Rov apart for their own self-promotion and Gaivoh, and I sure hope that they see your article.
    However, most of the people that NEED to see this type of article will stop reading it the minute they get to the point where they know it’s talking about them!! Too bad.

  2. You are mamash a grosa tzadik Reb Pinny. I thank you for being such a good shochen tov , a finna mench , and you make a great cholent for the menchen.

    you should be zoche to arichas yomim

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