A number of decades ago there was a Jew who attended a Lubavitch Shul but lacked the respect for the Rebbe that you’d expect. His mockery of the Rebbe in Shul wasn't infrequent. But at a certain point it all stopped. The Rabbi, who was a Lubavitcher, took notice and inquired as to what propelled this welcome change of demeanor.
To this inquiry, the man opened up to the Rabbi and said "I must confide something to you. After a long period of time of floundering income, I felt compelled to reach out for assistance. Being that I still had my pride, I opted to submit an anonymous ad to a newspaper which simply said [in Yiddish]; "Jew Needs help, contact (xxx) xxx-xxxx". There was only a single response. It was the Rebbe's secretary who was calling upon the Rebbe's instructions to find out what my needs were".
This week (3 Tammuz) we commemorated the 26th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe זצוק״ל, who, perhaps more than any other person in recent memory, left a legacy of caring for every single Jew, and indeed, for every human being.
Of course, the Rebbe did not invent the notion of Ahavas Yisrael. The centrality of valuing each and every Jew is as old as Yiddishkeit itself. It is, after all, the כלל גדול בתורה - The great rule of the Torah.
And to this end, Korach’s argument is so compelling, as the Torah describes:
Korach and his followers assembled themselves together against Moshe and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much on yourself, All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and Hashem is among them: why then raise yourselves up above the congregation of Hashem?”
Korach's claim is so Jewish. So central to who we are. Korach, and the Rebbe are completely correct. The entire nation is indeed transcendent. We do indeed have the present of Hashem in our midst.
Rav Kook in his 1906 Ma’amar HaDor explains that the immense Jewish proclivity for socialism, communism and liberalism stems from the great desire of a Jew to see a world in which every human being is regarded as valuable.
And yet, somehow, Korach was wrong. This great conundrum was expressed by the The Yismach Moshe, Reb Moshe Teitelbaum, the Rebbe of Ujhely.
He was once learning with his grandson, the Yitav Lev, and said that he remembered being in the Midbar and witnessing the machlokes between Korach and Moshe. His grandson asked, somewhat audaciously, which side he was on.
The Rebbe replied that he didn’t take a side. He stood back and waited to see what would happen.
The Chassidim were shocked! Holy Rebbe! How could you not side with Moshe. The Rebbe responded: “You didn't know Korach. You don't understand how hard it was to not follow him.”
The Klausenberger would refer to Korach is the Heilige Zeida , the Holy Grandfather Korach. Because he stood for so much good. But all of this deepens the question: Why was he wrong?
To answer this question, Hashem proposes a demonstration: Tell each leader of each tribe to bring their staff to the Mishkan, and the true leader’s staff will blossom. This was not simply a exhibition of who the true leader should be. For that, Hashem could have issued any number of miracles, signs and wonders. This purpose of this event was to educate a rejection of Korach; and demonstrate his mistake.
Reb Leibele Eiger (תורת אמת ר׳ קרח) explains:
“The primary desire of Hashem in His world is the growth of goodness and blessing and peace. And from Korach, the opposite developed - animosity and dissent.“
Essentially, explains Reb Leibele: In the murky uncertainties of human emotions and egos it is close to impossible to know whether an idea, a philosophy or a theory is good or bad. Any statement can be spun. Everyone’s words can be twisted to support an agenda.
So how can we tell if we, or anyone else is doing right? The only tool we have is to look at how the seeds they are planting will grow. And sometimes this is really tough. Sometimes, it takes years or generations to see how a particular seed grows.
But most of the time, we know what we are sowing. We know if we're sowing compassion, empathy and respect. We also know when we're sowing discord and malevolence. Others might not, but if we're honest with ourselves, the truth of our words and actions are apparent to us the moment we ask ourselves: “What will come from this?” Or rather “What do we want to come from this?”
Korach knew that despite his posturing for equality, he was really trying to destroy Moshe and Aharon. His staff was one of brokenness, and loneliness and competition.
There is a tremendous Yetzer Hara to see life as a zero sum game. Meaning: "If they have it, then I don't." If I say “their lives matter” it means “my life doesn’t.” But it's not true of life, and it's not true of Yiddishkeit.
The Ropchitzer would explain that anger, jealously and frustration are manifestations of a lack of Emuna. If Hashem wants something to work out for us, it will. And if not, it won't. And just because someone else is experiencing hatzlocha, it doesn't mean that Hashem cannot give you the same hatzlocha.
Last summer, while Aliza and I were beginning our Avoda in weight loss, we ran into a couple that hadn't seen us in while. They looked at us, and were duly impressed. The wife then asked us: "Do you guys have some kind of competition going?" To which I answered: "No. We're just trying to be really supportive of each other." She turn to her husband and said: "That would never happen in our family."
And I'm still trying to understand why not? Why is it that we choose competition over encouragement? It's a simply ludicrous way to live. Sure, you feel like a million bucks when you one-up your wife or husband. And they feel like a looser. But now you're living with a person that feels like a looser, and they blame you! How is this helpful on a personal level? How is this helpful on a nation level?
And we do this to children and our parents and our business partners and our colleagues all the time. We think winning will make us feel better. But the fundamental misunderstanding is that we're in this together. So Korach's seeds are poison, if for no other reason, than he can't be happy for Moshe and Aharon. He thinks his success must be predicated on their failure.
The Torah is asking us to not just to evaluate our words. But our motivations. Not just our philosophy, but the way we express it. Hashem should help us to plant and cultivate seeds that will blossom into the world He wants us to build.