Parashat Korach

How difficult is the election season, when we need to choose for the right candidates!


How does a person realize if a candidate speaks to us with sincere words and seek a collective good or if he only responds to personal interests? Especially once we all already know that they are going to tell us what we want or need to hear, how do we choose without having the feeling that they only treat us like children, to whom they say the best words to calm our needs?


It's hard. Even when we read Parashat Korach and know the end of the story and the comments, even then we can doubt whether this apparent demagogue's intentions were genuine or just another power-hungry upstart.


Midrashim and commentators agree that Korach solely craved power. And it would seem that his desire led him to calculate moments and circumstances well in a planned manner. Korach manifests himself in front of Moshe and Aharon precisely when the people have just been sentenced to 40 years of wandering in the desert. They have just lost the promised reward of a fertile and generous land, which flows with milk and honey and where they were going to settle. There is not, perhaps, a worse emotional moment for the people, nor a better moment to question the leadership.


In truth, the revolt could be seen as a democratic approach in which a part of the people wants to feel heard in their requests or in their participation in decisions. And this really wouldn't be bad.


The point is that Korach did not want to be heard. Korach understood that power should be shared with him. He felt that he too should be considered an equal of Moshe and that he himself SHOULD intervene in the decisions.


A Talmudic rule tells us that two voices cannot be heard together. In Masechet Megillah, when we are taught about how the Torah and the Megilot or the Haftarot must be read, it discriminates that for the last two, there may be "repeaters" of the reading. This meant that if the Beit Knesset where it was being read was very large and there were among the members of the Kahal those who could not hear well the words that were read, due to the lack of any amplification system, then it was permitted to assigned readers to repeat aloud what the main reader transmitted and, thus, it was possible to spread the reading throughout the temple so that everyone could hear it.


This could not happen with the reading of the Torah, though. The Torah had to be read by only one person, since trei kalei la mishtamei (in aramaic)—two voices cannot be heard together. It could lead to confusion. And the words of Torah must be clearly heard and read. That is why every reader of the Sefer must ALWAYS be assisted by a corrector (the gabai), who stands next to him so that nothing within the reading sounds wrong. Even if the reader is a Hacham beIsrael, a sage of Israel, the person who corrects him should do so with no shame.


This example of the Torah reading also occurs with leadership and management. We can have a democratic system, in our country, in our city. But leadership must be transparent and clear. For it to work properly, it cannot be confused in alliances that do not make it unambiguous who is who, nor must it play demagogically with the moments of anguish and weakness of the people by saying, for instance, what everyone wants to hear.


And it is the People who must analyze speeches; weigh proposals and not get carried away by the crowd and pretty words.


It is not about usurping spaces, or moments, or ideas. It is about having the clarity of where we want to go without double messages and with a sharp listening. And then becoming a team and a people that will follow that team in management.


Korach did not make it. And although today the earth does not open up to engulf anyone in punishment for pettiness, the result of not having a clear direction, continuing to make mistakes or leading an entire people to the wrong path is punishment enough. But in our parashah, Korach and his group paid a huge price for putting their own opinion and spurious interests above the good of the community. Korach is guilty of the sin of excessive ego.


We can be charismatic, well-intentioned, even wise and intelligent, but if we fall into the trap of believing that our personal excellence qualifies us to act unilaterally, we risk losing connection with the community to which we belong and with the roots that we have. So we should not be astonished or surprised if, from the very core of the community and its members, nothing and no one gives us the support we need to keep our feet on the ground.


If our rulers could transcend ego and power, abandon useless controversies and think of the whole, we would continue to live in safety, justice, health and well-being and to build Community. This way, we could celebrate the good controversies, which are nothing more or less than the axis of true democracy, through which different groups can be part of the game, make their voices heard and fight for the common good.


If hundreds of years ago a certain Korach rose up and we read and reread it year after year, how is it that we still haven't learned?


Gustavo Geier