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Home » Korach, Miscellaneous

Korach: Look, I’m Humble

Submitted by on June 19, 2011 – 4:01 amNo Comment | 3,022 views

Now Really!

After the passing of Rabbi Yehudah, the third century sage who edited the Mishnah, his colleagues proclaimed that the age of humility had come to an end. Several centuries later the Babylonian sage Rabbi Yosef offered a correction. Don’t say humility has died, he asserted, because there is I. (1)

At first blush this sounds ironic. Is it possible to boast of humility and remain humble?

Not My Fault

Korach, was a Levite who aspired to become High Priest. “Moses,” he complained, “you took the leadership, Aaron took the High Priesthood and nothing was left for me!” (2) Moses replied, “You … [complain] against G-d…  what is Aaron that you should complain against him?” (3)

What did Moses mean when he asked, what is Aaron? Aaron filled the position that Korach aspired to. Korach’s complaint was not against G-d, it was against the high priest.

Moses obviously meant to say that Aaron didn’t assume the high priesthood on his own, but was appointed by G-d. This is similar to what Moses told those who complained to Aaron and Himself of hunger. He said, “of what significance are we? Not against us are your complaints, but against G-d” (4) G-d directs all matters, not me. If you want Manna, complain to G-d. If you want to be a high priest, complain to G-d.

This answer is still somewhat unsettling. Shifting the blame to G-d is a legitimate argument, but in making it, Moses as much as conceded Korach’s point. Why didn’t moses defend his brother as the best candidate for the position? Essentially he told Korach, Aaron wasn’t appointed on merit, he just happened to be G-d’s choice. Either of you could have been high priest, but G-d chose Aaron.

That seems a callous position for Moses to take with respect to his brother. Did he truly not believe  Aaron most worthy of the position? Did he truly feel that Korach, who was later to be punished by G-d, was as worthy as Aaron?

Not To My Credit

The short answer is, yes. That is precisely what Moses believed. Not only did Moses believe that of Aaron, he blook im humble innersteramelieved it of himself.

Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth. Yet Moses knew his qualities. He was the redeemer of Israel, the greatest prophet of history, the splitter of the sea and the deliverer of heavenly Manna. He knew he was the greatest Jew in history, how could he be so humble?

Winston Churchill, who was not a great fan of his political rival clement Atlee, is reputed to have said, “Atlee is a very humble man.” After a pause he added with a twinkle, “Of course he has so much to be humble about.”

It is easy to be humble when you have nothing to boast. Moses was humble though he had much to  boast. How did he maintain a humble image of himself even while acknowledging his amazing talents, giant spirit and colossal achievements?

Simple. He never took credit for them. He always attributed credit to G-d. Suppose you saw a beautiful sculpture. Would you credit the sculptor or his tool? Of course the sculptor, the tool is incapable of sculpting anything. It is merely a tool that, when placed om the right hands, produces a sculpture. The talent and achievements belong to the sculptor.

Moses saw himself as G-d’s tool. He was a walking repository of talents and spirit that G-d used to perform miracles and deliver the Torah. When Moses received a compliment, he knew inwardly that he didn’t deserve it. Absent the talents given him by G-d, Moses would have been unable to accomplish anything. Credit must be given to G-d, who deposited these talents with Moses, rather than to Moses.

Further, Moses supposed that if anyone else were given the same set of talents Moses was given,  he could possibly have accomplished even more than Moses did. And since this was possible, Moses gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, assuming that, given the same talents, they would have accomplished more than Moses. This is how Moses was able to remain humble even as he accomplished monumental things.

Moses knew his brother well. He knew that Aaron saw life the same way he did. Aaron didn’t take credit for the high priesthood, but saw himself merely as G-d choice and G-d could have chosen anyone. Surely Aaron knew that he was well suited for the position, but he was suited to the position only because of the spiritual gifts G-d vested in him. He was not more than a tool in the hands of a sculptor. He took no credit for himself.

We now see what Moses meant when he said, your complaint is not with Aaron, but with G-d. Moses was not implying that Korach was as worthy as Aaron. On the contrary. G-d selected Aaron because Aaron was the best candidate for the high priesthood. But Korach wanted to be suited to the position and Moses could sympathize with that. Rather than deride Korach he reminded him that it wasn’t Aaron of whom Korach was jealous, bu Aaron’s spiritual abilities, which were given by G-d. Don’t grow angry with Aaron. Take it up with G-d, who made Aaron most suitable to the position.

Humility Is Also A Gift

Rabbi Yosef took this thought to the next level. Moses and Aaron viewed their talents as G-d given and could therefore display them without growing haughty. Rabbi Yosef saw his humility as G-d given and could therefore display it without growing haughty. It wasn’t to boast that Rabbi Yosef presented himself as humble, but to serve as an example for others. Humility is a gift, he wanted to say, and we can all be recipients of this gift.


We are each talented at something and when we excel we receive compliments. In the privacy of our hearts we know we didn’t work all that hard and what seemed monumental to the next person actually came easily to us. This is not a reason to think highly of ourselves, but a reason to grow humble.

It is rather polite to accept the praise, but inwardly we ought to wince because it is undeserved. We must remember that we are not better than the next person, only more vested with a particular talent. Had G-d endowed the other person with this talent, who knows how much better than me that person would have been. In fact, many have talents that we don’t and in those areas, they excel.

This is the ultimate equalizer. It is the truest form of egalitarianism. (5)


  1. Babylionian Talmud, Sotah 49b.
  2. Numbers 16: 11.out
  3. See Rashi’s commentary to Numbers 16: 3.
  4. Exodus 15: 8.
  5. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 13 pp. 30-39. Image reprinted from www.aurorameyer.wordpress.com

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