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Home » Korach, Politics

Korach: Let’s Have The Truth

Submitted by on June 6, 2010 – 4:10 amNo Comment | 1,532 views

I Want It Too

Moses was leader; his brother Aaron, High Priest. The people accepted this arrangement, knowing the selection was made by G-d. Well, actually, not all the people were happy. Korach and 250 of his friends were jealous; they coveted the position for themselves and brought their complaint to Moses. (1)

Sounds like a terrible thing; coveting a position to which G-d appointed another. Is “Thou Shall Not Covet,” not the one of, perhaps the most important of, the Ten Commandments? Well, actually Moses was hardly disappointed. In fact Moses praised them for their desire. “I too covet the position,” Moses told them, and so, I hope, do many others, his words implied. (2)

The High Priest functions on a rarified plain. Exalted far above the nation; he is Holy of Holies. (3) Devoted exclusively to Divine worship; his duties are never suspended. Special chambers are set aside for him in the Temple and he rarely leaves his post. He may go home for an hour or two in the evening, but during the day he is never away; not even to attend a family funeral. (4)

This kind of dedication is commendable and should be coveted by all. If spiritual devotion, contemplation and meditation are more compelling to you than material indulgence, you too should covet this position. Jealousy among scribes, our sages declared, enhances wisdom. (5) I too covet this position, declared Moses and I am proud that you do too.

Compromising The Truth

However, Moses was also disappointed because even noble desires do not justify cutting corners. Spiritual closeness with G-d is not attained by rebelling against G-d. Just as dishonesty does not lead to truth or betrayal to trust so does moral perversion not lead to goodness.

Moses told them that in the morning G-d would make manifest His choice. (6) Our sages explained Moses’ message thusly: Just as one cannot change the order or morning and evening so can one not change G-d’s choice of Aaron as High Priest. (7) You desire the position? That is admirable. In fact so do I. But you don’t see me demanding that G-d bend His rules to accommodate my wish. Laudable as his desire was, revising the Divine order would not lead Korach closer to G-d. (8)

G-d’s rules are formulated because they are right and true; they are not meant for us to change. Any change in them perverts the moral order of things. I too would love to be the High Priest, but better to be disappointed in my spiritual yearnings than to subvert the Divine order. Better to go without than to undermine the world’s fundamental truth.

Politics

The desire to do good is ingrained in human nature; it crosses all ethnics lines and reverberates through all of history. Modern democracies are filled with politicians that run for office because they want to do good; they have a vision, want to serve the public and believe they could make a difference. Most politicians see themselves in that light even after many years in politics.

It is true that politics is an ugly game and it is almost impossible to survive, let alone thrive, without becoming corrupt or at least dishonest on some level. Still despite the dishonesty most politicians profess to be in politics out of a desire for public lets have the truth innerstreamservice; they want to help others.

The desire to serve others is laudable; we would all be better off if more decent people volunteered to run for public office. We should not deride our politicians for their desire for office; essentially we should all have that desire. (Not the desire for power, but the desire to do for others.)

The problem is not in the aim, but the process. Laudable desires do not justify cutting corners. Too many politicians believe that the end justifies all means. They campaign on false promises and accept contributions from inappropriate sources believing it is in the service of the public good; if they win and get into office their constituents will be best served.

Meanwhile many politicians make ridiculous statements and take outlandish positions to please their electorate and more precisely the media. Politicians often choose the popular positions over those they know to be correct. Rare is the politician that defend his/her position by saying s/he did what s/he thought was right. Instead politicians play at clairvoyance; claiming to know the will of the people. I did what the people wanted me to do… my decisions closely reflected the will of my constituents. We hardly hear politicians say, I went against the will of my constituents because it was the right thing to do.

The reason is obvious. Politicians are afraid of unpopular positions because they might lose the next election. The real question is why do you want to win the next election, to accomplish something good or to hold on to power? If the former, there is no reason to wait till after the next election to take the unpopular, but correct position. You are in office now; take it now. If the people vote you out because you did the right thing, you will know that these people don’t want the service you deliver. (9)

Moses’ message rings true not only to those aspiring for the High Priesthood, but to all potential leaders. Don’t compromise on honesty and don’t surrender the truth to attain or hold on to your lofty position. Aspiring for high office is laudable and more people should; exchanging right for wrong, honesty for deceit and good for evil is not. There are rules in this world. Just as morning can never be changed into evening so can goodness never be accomplished through wrongfulness and deceit.

Too many politicians, too many leaders, have sacrificed goodness on the altar of elections. How refreshing it would be to hear a politician say just this once, I would rather do what is right and lose my office than do what is wrong and hold on to it. I venture to say that when this politician appears he or she will be the most popular leader in the history of our country.

But if reality strikes and that politician loses the next election, the shame would be on us. Moses’ message is not only true for our leaders; it rings true for us all.

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 16: 3.
  2. Bamidbar Rabbah 18: 8.
  3. Baba Basra 21a.
  4. Chronicles I 23:13.
  5. Rambam Hilchos Kli Hamikdash 5: 7 and Hilchos Bias
    Hamikdash 1:10.
  6. Numbers 16: 5.
  7. See Rashi’s commentary ibid. See also Bamidbar
    Rabbah 18: 7 and Tanchumah Korach ch. 5.
  8. LIkutei Sichos v. XVIII p. 190.
  9. It is easy to speak of politicians because I am not
    a politician, but let us also speak the truth where it hurts. Rabbis
    are spiritual leaders and they, even more than other leaders, must speak
    the truth. When rabbis are asked to compromise on Torah or Rabbinical
    law to satisfy the desire of their congregation the Rabbi must stand
    firm with absolute commitment to Torah.
    Of course the rabbi is first and foremost a teacher, which means that it
    is not sufficient for him to espouse the law; his legal formulations
    must be accompanied by friendly and easily understood teaching.
    Congregants mustn’t be told what to do, but guided along the Torah’s
    path; a path that is pleasant and peaceful, but also
    unyielding.
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