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Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Korach (Numbers 16-18) What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vega

The last time a professional sports team from Washington DC won a national championship was 36 years ago when the Redskins won the Super Bowl-but that recently changed when the Washington Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup. The arena in Vegas erupted the second after the Caps won. While Alex Ovechkin, the first player to take the Stanley Cup into his hands, skated around the ice with the trophy hoisted in the air, he was followed by teammates who circled behind him on the rink. Several players seemed to be distracted by something in the crowd. A female fan standing next to the plexiglass that surrounded the rink, decided to publicly expose the top half of her body; that was the distraction that the winning team-and everyone else-saw. But what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas; the story went viral. I don’t know anything about the woman (no one has identified her) but she is obviously a woman of financial means or is connected to people who are. Tickets to the Stanley Cup, if you can get one, start at $1500, but for seats around the plexiglass at rink level the price begins at $7000. One wonders, how much money would a woman privileged to be on society’s high financial strata take to appear partially naked? It doesn’t happen too often because women want to retain their dignity and privacy. Why did she expose herself at an event televised internationally with millions of viewers? No one can give a definitive answer but here’s one possibility-but first an introduction.
This week’s Parsha introduces us to Korach, one of the most disliked personalities in the Torah. He was the first cousin of Moses and Aaron who felt slighted because they had been given the two most prominent positions of leadership for the new Jewish nation (Moses was the leader and Aaron was the Kohen Gadol, High Priest). Korach led a rebellion against Moses. Moses reacted by presenting a challenge to Korach and his group. Both Aaron and Korach’s people will offer incense before G-d and G-d would indicate whom He chooses.
He (Moses) spoke to Korach and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, G-d will make known who is (qualified to be) His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him.(Numbers 16:5) 
Why did they have to wait for the morning; why was it necessary to push off the confrontation? Rashi on the verse “In the morning G-d will make known,” comments by quoting a Midrash that addresses this question. “Night is a time of (feasting and) drunkenness…Moses intention was to delay, with the hope that they might reconsider and retract their opposition.” People do foolish things when they are drunk; Moses wanted to give them a chance to get sober before choosing a self-destructive path. There’s also another way to understand “a time of drunkenness.” In one of Isaiah’s prophecies he says, “Therefore, hear this now you afflicted one, drunk but not from wine.” (Isaiah 51:21) In context, “drunk” refers to an earlier verse, where the people metaphorically drank from the “cup of bewilderment.” Isaiah was telling the people that, although they did not drink wine, they were as bewildered as a drunkard.
Korach’s outburst was meant to put Moses and Aaron on the defensive; what right did they have to take all the power for themselves. Korach said,
…The entire assembly-all of them-are holy and G-d is among them; why do you exalt yourself over the entire congregation of G-d? (Num.16:3)
This is an illogical argument because if the premise is to be taken on face value, the implication is that neither Moses, Aaron nor anyone else can be leader because “all of them” are holy and no one person can “exalt yourself over the entire congregation.” But how then could Korach claim that, due to his pedigree, he was entitled to be the leader. It seems that he saw the necessity of a leader but that he wasn’t happy not being it. Why didn’t his followers realize this? He was staging a rebellion so that he would be the leader but never mentions a word about how this will affect everyone. Revolutions and rebellions begin when people aren’t treated properly and someone or group claims that things will improve (financially and socially) when they take over. Korach never made that claim; he never said Moses was misusing his power or that he was persecuting the people. There were no campaign promises of how things would change if he would be in control; that there was no reason for the people to support a rebellion. However, Korach was a master orator and after wining and dining the 250 people he had determined would cave in to his absurd claim, they acquiesced to his farce. Moses realized that this was not the time for a showdown. If one wants to have a serious conversation with a person, it would be ill advised to do so during a super Bowl party or tailgating event. This was a life-death decision and Moses wanted the people to be cognizant for it, so he waited for the next morning when they would be sober.
People don’t need to be drunk to start acting in a bewildered manner. Although one sees it at rock concerts and major sporting events, it can also happen at Little League games, high school student rallies, and college campuses when a controversial speaker is given a forum for debate or discussion. The same way that Isaiah told the people they were acting as drunkards, even though they didn’t drink, most of us have witnessed parents at Little League or youth basketball games losing their temper, yelling, and acting in a way they never would in their office or when out eating with friends. The same college students who get into a frenzy during a talk given by a speaker with whom they disagree, are studious, thoughtful, and caring the rest of the time. “I lost myself” is the term used when one loses touch with the reality that at this moment, I am not being the person I want to or is meant to be.
No one can say with certainty what was going on in the mind of the woman who exposed herself to an international audience; most probably she was caught up in the madness of the moment. People were yelling and screaming, they drank the intoxicating cup of bewilderment. At that moment, a person can do something (s)he would never have done under regular circumstances. Most people would have to be paid a handsome sum to expose themselves disrobed; many would not do it at any cost, but this woman of financial means did it for free. That is the power of bewilderment and being caught in the moment.
This concept has applications for us regularly. Sometimes a piece of news involving family or friends causes us to get into conversations with others and we start heading toward an endless rabbit hole of hatred, bickering, and resentment. In a moment of sanity, we would realize how this behavior is not indicative of the people we are and the people we want to be, but in the moment, we allow ourselves to lose the ability to think rationally. I’ve seen intelligent people fight with waiters, cashiers, yell at other people’s child(ren), and other situations that they later feel foolish about because they allowed themselves to have fallen into someone they don’t want to be.
How do you find sanity when you don’t even know you’ve lost it (even for the moment) and what to do when you find out will have to be the topic of another dvar Torah. For now, it behooves us to realize the danger we are in when we voluntarily or involuntarily gulp down the cup of bewilderment and go down the rabbit hole of behavior that takes us away from seeing and fulfilling our potential.
(Sources: Mizrachi on Rashi, 16:5 quoted in Chumash Shai l’MorahMetzudos Dovid on Isaiah 51:21, brought in Milstein Edition)