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Parashat Korach: How can we trust a leader?

How can we realize if a leader is positive or not? How can we determine if the words we hear from someone seeking a position, regardless of the type of role we are talking of, are sincere and aimed at the collective good or simply driven by personal interests?

It's difficult. Reading a person's intentions is always challenging. Even when we read Parashat Korach, the portion in which a leader rises against Moses, and we know the outcome of the story and the commentaries, where he and his followers are condemned to death, we may still doubt whether this apparent demagogue's intentions were sincere or if he was simply another opportunist hungry for power.

Certain things are clear: Korach wanted that power. And it seems that his desire led him to carefully calculate moments and circumstances in a planned manner. Korach rebels against Moses and Aaron precisely when the people have just been sentenced to 40 years of wandering in the desert. This people, hungry for comfort and longing for the supposed benefits of slavery in Egypt, have just lost the promised reward of a fertile and generous land flowing with milk and honey, where they would settle to live a life according to the newly received Torah laws. There is perhaps no worse emotional moment for the people, nor a better time to question leadership.

If we want to be lenient with Korach, the revolt could be seen as a democratic demand where a part of the people wishes to feel heard in their desires of participation in decision-making. And that doesn't sound so bad, does it?

The point is that Korach didn't want to be heard. Korach believed that power should be shared with him. He believed that he MUST intervene in the decisions.

A rule from the Talmud tells us that two voices cannot be heard together. In Masechet Megillah, when we are taught about how the Torah and the Megillot (scrolls) or Haftarot (sections read each Shabbat from the Prophets) should be read, it is explained that for the latter two, there can be "repeaters" of the reading. This means that if the place where the reading is taking place is very large and, obviously, lacking microphones and a sound system, it would be difficult for the congregants to hear it, so readers could be assigned to read it repeatedly and spread the reading throughout the temple so that everyone could hear it. This was done, as I said, with the reading of the Megillot and Haftarot, but the same couldn't be done with the reading of the Torah.

The Torah had to be read by a single person because "Trei kalei la mishtamei" - two voices cannot be heard together. It could lead to confusion. And the words of the Torah must be heard and read clearly. Furthermore, there should always be a corrector next to the reader to ensure no words are read incorrectly and that the attendees receive the intended message. Even if the reader is a Chacham BeYisrael, a wise person of Israel, there must be someone correcting them.

Certainly, Korach should have been more humble and respectful of leadership, joining Moses and Aaron in their task with his own ideas that would help move the people forward. He surely had a lot to contribute, but by putting his selfishness and personal pride ahead of the generosity of giving for the common good, he only ended up appearing as an ambitious individual without collective vision.

It was a time to work together for the benefit of their congregation and community with ideas, contributions of time, and hands that work. It was time to build. It IS time to build. Does it sound familiar or close to us?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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