Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Korach (Numbers 16-18) Finding the Ability to Have Humility

 No one needs to be convinced of the futility of senseless arguments, yet the villain of this week’s Parsha, Korach, didn’t seem to understand that; he was the most argumentative and rebellious figure of his day. He incited a mutiny by challenging Moses’ leadership and refused to accept that the highest religious position-kehunah(priesthood)- was granted to Aaron; he convinced 250 others to join him. They offered the sacred incense (ketoret) to prove their worthiness for the priesthood. When accusations were hurled at Moses, he (Moses) answered by referencing his meticulous reputation.…I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs nor have I wronged even one of them. (16:15)Moses was accused of abusing his position of power over the Jewish people; he protested to G-d that he had not abused his position as leader. He never wrongfully appropriated anything or wronged even one individual among them.There is an interesting grammatical anomaly that sheds light on Moses’ statement (Due to the complexity of the grammar, I have not included it here but have a full explanation at the end of this dvar Torah.) Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1846-1926) in his monumental Meshech Chochmah uses this grammatical irregularity to explain Moses’ comment; when he said he had not wronged “even one of them,” he was referring to even the most important of them, not merely the commonersIt is easy for a person to feign humility by acting humble in the presence of those who are clearly of a much lower status than he. Since they are obviously not his equal, he does not risk anything by making gestures of honor toward them; he doesn’t have to worry that his compliments will be interpreted as if he believes that the one he is complimenting is actually greater than himself. For example, if Lebron goes to a high school to encourage the basketball team and says, “I’m glad I don’t have to play against you guys. I haven’t seen defense on the court this good in years.” No matter how many compliments he gives the team, he will not diminish his iconic status. As such, this form of humility is safe. However, the true test of humility is with one’s peers, because there is the danger that the honor he gives them is actually because he considers them to be greater than himself. Someone with false humility will therefore never apply it to his equals. Only a truly humble person will accord honor even to those who might be viewed as real competition for his status.This is the type of humility we find with Moses. In an earlier incident in the Torah, two men, Eldad and Medad, prophesized at the wrong time and place. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) tells us that seventy elders were to be chosen for a special “prophecy” gathering. Each of the 12 tribes wanted equal representation, but the obvious problem is that 70 is not divisible by 12. If each tribe provides six elders, we have a total of 72, but G-d specifically mandated 70. Moses took 72 slips of paper; on seventy of them he wrote “elder,” and two of them he left blank. He then chose six from each tribe and instructed them enter the lottery by drawing a slip from the urn. Whoever picked one inscribed with “elder” was in, whoever picked a blank slip was out. Eldad and Medad picked the blank strips; when the others went to this unique assembly to prophesize, Elad and Medad stayed behind “and they prophesized in the camp.” Joshua, who eventually succeeded Moses as leader, protested and asked Moses to imprison them. The moment when this prophecy was happening, Moses answered: “Are you being zealous for my sake? Would that the entire people of G-d could be prophets, if G-d would but put His spirit upon them.” (Numbers 11:29).    Eldad and Medad were not mere commoners, they had attained a high level of prophesy and, according to the Talmud, were prophesying about Moses’ being denied bringing the people into the Land of Israel. How did Moses respond? “Would that all of G-d’s nation would be prophets such as these!” He not only praised their ability to prophesize, he even encouraged it-even though his status as leader and “chief prophet” would be compromised by this praise. Can we even conceive of the Speaker of the House, at any time in American history, saying, “I wish more people would compete for my job,” or, Babe Ruth, who at one time held the record for most Home Runs, saying, “I hope more people come in the near future to hit a lot of home runs and challenge my record.This is Moses’ intent by proclaiming before the Almighty that he had never wronged any prominent individual among the people. He was humble even among his “peers,” the most prominent people of the nation, yet he never abused his power. When we hear of abuse of power, it’s usually attributed to the mentality that the person who thinks “I am above the law.” The best assurance of avoiding this pitfall is for one to be humble and realize (s)he is not the center of the universe. The Chassidic Rebbe Yehoshua of Ostrova (1819-1873) once observed that an arrogant person is even worse than a liar because a liar knows he’s lying but an arrogant person is convinced of his superiority.How does one become humble? The Torah refers to Moses as the paradigm of humility. It is no coincidence that he was also the greatest person of action. When, like Moses, you don’t feel like the center of the universe and that everyone is here to serve you, you live your life to help others because you see their value and therefore are motivated to tend to their needs. Whether the need is financial, emotional, medical, or any other, you will want to help the person. But if you feel you are at the center of the universe, you will be wondering why more people aren’t helping you! The man who leaves his family due to a mid-life crisis is selfish; the man who remains loyal to his commitments to be there for his family, realizes that his own crisis doesn’t give him the right to abandon his responsibilities. Neglect of duty is due to selfishness. Because of selfishness we omit the good and commit the bad. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) observes that it “makes us shrink from the fulfillment of our life-task.”(From the Wisdom of Mishle p. 200). Each time you do something for another person, you are reducing your ego and, therefore, becoming humbler. Doing good for others doesn’t just make the world into a better place, it also makes you a more likeable and happier person.  Good Shabbos____________________ [Grammatical Note on Numbers 16:15. לֹ֠א חֲמ֨וֹר אֶחָ֤ד מֵהֶם֙ נָשָׂ֔אתִי וְלֹ֥א הֲרֵעֹ֖תִי אֶת־אַחַ֥ד מֵהֶֽם…I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs nor have I wronged even one of them. The word אַחַדis written twice in the verse. The second time אַחַדappears, the aleph is vowelized with a patach (אַחַ֥ד). This deviates from the norm, where אֶחָד is (almost) always vowelized with a segol – אֶחָד, as is the case when אֶחָד is used in the first part of the verse (חֲמוֹר אֶחָד). Meshech Chochmah (quoted above) observes (based on Rashi, Bereishis 26:10) that when this irregular vowelization occurs, it also slightly changes the meaning. The word אֶחָדsimply means “one,” whereas אַחַד denotes a prominent personality, as we find, for example, that King Avimelech refers to himself as אַחַד הָעָם – “the most prominent among the nation.” (Bereishis 26:10).]
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center