Parsha Korach: Leading up or down?

This week, we study in hopes that the three Israeli yeshiva students kidnapped several days ago – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel – will be returned home soon.

Many people are saying Psalms, especially 121, 130, 142 and 143, or doing mitzvot for the benefit of these boys. If you want to do something personally for the boys, you could recite Psalm 121 for them, each night just before you go to bed; your family may want to join you. We have printed it below for you.

If you would like to perform a mitzvah for the boys, talk to your parents, religious school teacher, Scout leader or rabbi about what would be best.

When praying or performing a mitzvah on behalf of someone else, the custom is to “keep them in mind” by reciting their names. The boys’ names in Hebrew are Eyal ben Iris Teshura, Gilad Michoel ben Bat Galim and Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah. (Notice that the Hebrew names are all “son of” and the name of their mother. The boys are all Orthodox; the Orthodox custom is to use the name this way when someone is ill or in need of help.)

Dear Scouts:

The founder of the Order of the Arrow, Dr. E. Urner Goodman, used to say that leaders could either lead up or down.  In parsha Korach this week, we read about leaders who led down – in more ways than one.

Korach is a member of one of the most distinguished families among the Children of Israel. He is a member of the tribe of Levi, and the cousin of Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Together with three members of the tribe of Reuben – Datan, Aviram and On – he begins complaining about the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Their complaint is that Moses and Aaron have taken on too much leadership. Korach also complains Aaron’s family should not be priests. He recruits 250 “men of renown” who are not Levites to join him.

Korach plays on the people’s sadness that they will not be allowed to enter Canaan because they believed the false report of the ten Meraglim (spies) who said the Canaanites were giants and thus the Israelites would not be able to conquer the land. Not only does he stir up discontent, he lies by complaining that Moses has led the people away from Egypt, calling it “a land flowing with milk and honey” – he describes the land where they were enslaved by using the same words that God uses to describe the Land of Israel!

Then Moses gives the rebels a challenge. Tomorrow they are to each bring a fire pan with incense on it to the Tent of Meeting. Moses and Aaron will do the same.

It is a dramatic scene the next day. All the people (called here the “assembly”) come and the Shechinah (the “cloud” that represents God’s glory) appears. God tells Moses and Aaron to stand aside and watch as all the people are destroyed. Once again, Moses intervenes, asking “shall one man sin, and You be angry with the entire assembly?” God tells Moses to have the people move away from the tents of Korach, Dathan and Aviram. (On had left the rebellion, at the urging of his wise wife.) God then causes a pit to open in the ground, and it swallows Korach, Dathan and Aviram and their families. The 250 men of renown who followed Korach and brought pans of incense are consumed by fire. (The Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a, records a dispute about whether Korach died in the pit or the fire, or both, or neither.

So you see, physically, Korach led his followers down to the inner reaches of the Earth. But he led them down spiritually as well. Korach was jealous that although he was a Levi, he did not have an important position. His followers from the tribe of Reuben were jealous because Reuben’s importance as the first born had been lost to the tribe of Levi, which exhibited leadership in Egypt by not worshipping idols. Had Korach, Dathan, Aviram and On been true leaders, they would have only been concerned with the welfare of those they led.

God has shown us what can happen to bad leaders. To show the reward of good leaders, we again see an old friend – a symbol of servant leadership, the walking stick, like the one Moses used in Egypt, which is beautiful in its simplicity, chosen for its sturdiness and always at hand to help the traveler on his journey. God tells Moses to collect the staffs of each tribe with the name of the tribe’s prince on it; Aaron’s name is to be on the staff of Levi. The twelve staves are laid in the Mishkan and the next morning there is a miracle – Aaron’s staff has signs of life – it is budding and almonds are ripening. Just as Moses’ staff had been a source of help to the Israelites, so Aaron’s staff is a fitting symbol of true leadership – a person who serves the people.

Shabbat shalom,


©2014  Nelson R. Block

Psalms Chapter 121 תְּהִלִּים
א  שִׁיר, לַמַּעֲלוֹת:
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים–    מֵאַיִן, יָבֹא עֶזְרִי.
1 A Song of Ascents. {N}
I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come?
ב  עֶזְרִי, מֵעִם יְהוָה–    עֹשֵׂה, שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.
2 My help cometh from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
ג  אַל-יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ;    אַל-יָנוּם, שֹׁמְרֶךָ.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
ד  הִנֵּה לֹא-יָנוּם, וְלֹא יִישָׁן–    שׁוֹמֵר, יִשְׂרָאֵל.
4 Behold, He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep.
ה  יְהוָה שֹׁמְרֶךָ;    יְהוָה צִלְּךָ, עַל-יַד יְמִינֶךָ.
5 The LORD is thy keeper; the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
ו  יוֹמָם, הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא-יַכֶּכָּה;    וְיָרֵחַ בַּלָּיְלָה.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
ז  יְהוָה, יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל-רָע:    יִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
7 The LORD shall keep thee from all evil; He shall keep thy soul.
ח  יְהוָה, יִשְׁמָר-צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ–    מֵעַתָּה, וְעַד-עוֹלָם.
8 The LORD shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, from this