In this week’s portion we read about the rebellion of Korach and his followers. If we look at the text, we might see Korach as a sympathetic character. He says to Moshe, “For all the community are holy…Why then do you raise yourself above the Lord’s congregation?” At first glance it looks like Korach is arguing for equality, a value to which we can all relate. But, if we look a little closer we notice that there’s something wrong. While Korach appears to be working towards a common good, it quickly becomes clear that he is engaging in this rebellion for his own benefit.
Korach failed in such a spectacular way that he was swallowed up by the earth! His actions were so offensive that God wanted to destroy all those who were even associated with Korach. Given the divine anger he incurs, we have to wonder what exactly it was that made God so angry. As we spoke about in our torah study this week, Korach’s rebellion was not sinful because of its argument – the idea of equality is one which we all hold dear – but clearly it was sinful.
The answer we came to in torah study was that while Korach’s argument was not faulty on principle, it was the way he went about it that earned him God’s ire. Instead of going to Moshe and Aaron directly and privately, Korach decides to rally two hundred and fifty people to help him foment a rebellion against them. Instead of trying to work out a solution together, he sought to embarrass and shame Moshe and Aaron into capitulating to his demands.
We can learn a lot from Korach’s actions. We all have times when we feel righteously angered by someone, when we know that we have a legitimate point to make. Like Korach, we might feel disrespected or that someone has done something to offend us. We might feel that they’ve offended us in some way. When those moments occur, we have to ask ourselves what it is that was offended, what part of us is taking offense. We have to ask ourselves if it’s our ego or our soul that was slighted. We also have to figure out how we will engage in a conversation about that slight. We have to ask if we will be engaging through our ego or our soul. The answer to those questions can be found in how we see the other person.
When we act from a place of ego, we’re no longer able to see other people as people. When we act out of ego, we see only obstacles in the way of our getting what we want. People are reduced to things: either things that can help us or things that can prevent us from getting what we think we deserve. It is clear that, in Korach’s case, his ego was the piece of him that was damaged or slighted. He thought he deserved more honor and only saw Moshe and Aaron as obstacles in his way – an argument born of his ego – and that led to his downfall.
There’s another way to engage in disagreement. There’s another way to air what might be a legitimate complaint, or to advocate or even argue for something. That is to try to engage from our soul. When we’re able to speak our truth from our soul, when we act from this place of authenticity, the conversation takes on a different tone. This type of conversation allows us to advocate for ourselves, but in a way that allows us to still be able to see the other as a person. Instead of acting for the sake of our ego, instead of trying to puff ourselves up, we’re coming from a place of truth that allows for a greater purity of motivation.
We all have moments when we’re unhappy with something or someone. If we want to change the dynamic, we have to remind ourselves to come at it from a place of our soul, that place where our truth and vulnerability meet our better selves. Then, instead of those conversations leading us to feel more alienated from other people, we may find ourselves feeling even closer to them than we were before we had the conversation.
Rabbi Ben Goldstein