One of the perplexing questions that emerges from this morning’s Parsha is: In what way was Korach mistaken? We read how Korach challenges Moshe and Aharon with the following statement:
"You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?"
Korach’s specific complaint was regarding Aharon’s elevation as Kohen Gadol, a position of which he was envious. Korach’s larger complaint was the very notion of Jewish leadership: For if every Jew is holy, then why are there any positions of leadership within the Jewish community?
In some important ways, Korach is correct. It is fundamental to Jewish thought that all Jews are holy; we each possess a Divine spark in our souls. If that is the case, then one can legitimately question the need for leadership within the Jewish People.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that Korach’s challenge is predicated on a mistaken understanding of the role of a Jewish leader. The primary role of a leader is help people get more in touch with their Divine spark. In short, the job of a leader is to inspire people to inspire themselves. It’s true that every individual has the potential for holiness. But many of those same people cannot get in touch with that holy potential. Even those who are spiritually sensitive enough to bring holiness into their lives, still may need help to optimize that experience and maximize that potential for kedusha. It is the job of leaders to actualize that potential and to bring out the best in others.
And although not all of us can be leaders on the scale of Moshe or Aharon, each of us has the ability to be a Jewish leader within his/her realm of impact and sphere of influence. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (who passed away 25 years ago today, the 3rd of Tammuz) was fond of retelling the Chasidic saying “if you only know aleph (first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) - then teach aleph!” We all have something to teach others, and we can serve in a leadership role, for some people in some setting. Whether it is within our family, our neighborhood, our office or our shul, let us learn from the mistake of Korach and proudly wear the mantle of leaders. Let us do so by serving as positive peer pressure for others and by encouraging and validating their efforts at inspiring themselves.
This past week, I convened our annual meeting with Rabbi and Sara Frieberg to review the previous programming year and begin planning for 5780. As part of these meetings we focus on both concrete plans as well as questions that are meant to be thought-provoking (even if we cannot definitively answer them). One of the questions I posed was: How can we inspire more people; how can we inspire people more? Our conclusions were that 1) different people are inspired by different things, 2) while big events and gestures can be memorable, long-lasting inspiration comes from the accumulation of small gestures, interactions and experiences that have a cumulative inspirational effect, and 3) one of the most important things Rabbis and community leaders can do is inspire people to take advantage of the opportunities that exist for inspiration.
Let us learn from Korach’s mistake by both stepping up and being leaders when we can inspire others, while also doing the hard work of inspiring ourselves.