The charge of nepotism
Almost every year for Parshat Korach I try to understand anew, the underlying core issue of the Machloket (divisive argument). It is not that I am dissatisfied with my earlier interpretations. Rather, I believe part of the purpose of interpreting any Torah, but especially Parsha, is not to just to reach deeper textual understanding, but also to gain insight into very current and contemporary issues. So, when we look at Parsha, we are inevitably looking at it from the angle of our own experiences in the present. That is the meaning of Bechol yom yiheyu be’eineichem kechadashim (each day experience Torah as new).
Korach’s claim of nepotism would find a sympathetic ear in most frameworks of corporate governance today. I am not sure that today, a U.S. President could get away with appointing his brother as the Attorney General the way President Kennedy did. Why, out of a vast choice of holy people – all of whom encountered G-d himself at Mt. Sinai, does Moshe choose his own brother as Kohen? We know the answer: Moshe did not make the choice, Hashem did. But this is exactly what Korach finds hard to accept.
Korach, and in fact the people of Israel, had no way of knowing that Moshe was acting in good faith on the instructions of Hashem. On the contrary, Korach assumed, based on his understanding of G-d’s value system, that it was highly unlikely that the appointment of Aharon as Kohen Gadol was an instruction from Hashem. Surely G-d would not set an example of such a narrow concentration of power in the hands of two brothers? Surely this could only be Moshe’s own quest for power and the manifestation of his own ego? The core of the issue is that Korach did not trust Moshe.
Korach went wrong in allowing his rational, analytical mind to dominate his assumptions. As powerful and crucial a tool as intellect is, it limits us when we use it as our only tool for the interpretation of events. We need to use our intuitions too – and the most critical intuitive sense we need to use is our power of trust.
Life without trust
Consider what life would be like without trust? When a husband or wife leaves their home in the morning, can their partner know, using mental analysis, that they will be faithful? When you tell a friend something in confidence, can you know they will respect that confidence? When you make a purchase or an investment, can you know that the other party will deliver what they promised? When you receive a check can you know there will be funds to cover it? When you fly on an aircraft, can you be sure that the mechanics prepared it adequately for safe flight? When driving down a street at full speed, can you know for sure that oncoming traffic will drive on the other side of the road, and at a green traffic light can you know that people coming in the other directions will stop on red? In each of these and many more daily interactions, we trust others.
Sometimes our trust is based on accumulated past experience or statistics. Sometimes it is based on assumptions about human nature. Often we trust people whose history we do not know; we trust on a hunch. Mostly, our trust is based on our observations and experiences of other peoples’ characters. We trust their integrity, sincerity, caring, love, dedication.
We take risks when we trust. We may be disappointed. We may be rejected. We may even lose our lives. But we cannot live effectively if we do not take those risks every day. Often, we more easily take the risk when we trust than when we have made a purely rational calculation.
Emunah and Bitachon (faith and trust in G-d) is emotional, intuitive trust. We have no proofs. Believing and trusting is a much higher order of knowledge than knowing something analytically.
Korach trusted in his own intellect but not in the character of others. Only people of character trust character. Korach could not or would not even trust Moshe. Korach’s own ego prevented him from believing in the possibility that Moshe was anav me’od mikol adam(extremely humble, more so than any man). He tried to catch Moshe out with tricky halachik questions that he reasoned with his quick, but not always straight, wit. Using mental analysis alone, one could easily conclude that a G-d of justice and fairness would not select two brothers for paramount positions of authority when tens of thousands of others were as competent in ones own view. He, like the people in the time of Ruth, was shofeit et shoftav (judged his judges).
In our time too, society often judge its judges, its leaders. Too often they have failed to demonstrate greatness of character. This lapse has given unrestrained power to our Korachs, the often unscrupulous media. Like Korach they trust no one. Like Korach they believe in no one except their own often-warped judgments. The watch-dogs of the public interest are what they call themselves. Like dogs they sniff in the garbage heaps of gossip and tenaciously pursue their prey to death. Like the wild dogs of Africa, in public they tear their victims to pieces limb by limb. It is they who decide who is the aggressor and who the victim. It is they who decide who is the guilty and who the innocent. Are they not doing this before our very eyes in their coverage of Israel in the Middle East conflict? And the gullible public follows the media and swallows their every word.
It is not surprising that increasingly that same media call for the removal of any reference to G-d from America’s courtrooms and classrooms. We cannot know G-d from empirical proof, we can onlytrust him from the cores of our souls. But, like the Korach of old, the Korach of today has no soul, he cannot trust. For long, the media (aside from many individual journalists of high integrity and a few reputable papers) long ago sold their souls in the quest for profit and advertising dollars above truth. Soulless people and entities create machloket and thrive on it; for bodies without souls have no binding properties, they share no common component. It is only through our souls and our capacities to trust that we forge intimate relationships with one another, with our nation, and with our G-d.
Turn on your television; read the newspapers. The voice of Korach can still be heard.