Stubborn isn’t always right
PLEASE NOTE: Because of the timing of the end of Pesach, Korach is the Parasha this week in Israel and next week in the Diaspora.
Having the grit to continue in the face of adversity is admirable.
But sometimes we refuse to back down even though it would be the sensible thing to do. Occasionally we wedge ourselves into a corner and can’t get out without admitting we were wrong, so instead we stand our ground.
Marketing folk know this. Even a single word can commit someone to a viewpoint. Once a potential customer has said “no” it is much more difficult to get them to say “yes.” It is better to avoid giving them the opportunity to refuse.
In this week’s eponymous Torah portion, we read of Korach who challenged Moshe’s leadership.
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz (Da’at Torah, Biurim, Bamidbar 16:1) explains that initially, Korach’s motives were for the sake of heaven. He didn’t want to usurp Moshe’s role, and he didn’t think he was greater than Moshe. Rather, he wanted to rise up to a higher level of holiness and felt that the best way to do that would be to take on the role of a cohen, like his cousin Aharon.
The Mishna (Avot 5:17) teaches:
Every dispute for the sake of heaven will eventually continue. But that which is not for the sake of heaven will not continue.
Korach’s dispute is the paradigm of one which was not for the sake of heaven. Even though, according to Rav Levovitz, Korach originally thought his motives were virtuous. In his mind, Korach thought his dispute was for the sake of heaven.
However, deep down, Korach was jealous of his cousin Moshe and resented the fact that all the best jobs were taken by or given to other members of the family. And this jealousy perverted his good intent to become more spiritual. Instead of the pure aims of raising himself up to holiness and spiritual growth, Korach came to crave the destruction of those above him, to cut them down to his level.
But he couldn’t go and make a stand against the nation’s leadership all alone. He wouldn’t have stood a chance. So he recruited Datan, Aviram, and 250 neighbors from Reuven, the tribe next door.
Perhaps Korach thought his followers would be happy to accept him as the new leader once he defeated Moshe. But it turned out that each of those 250 men also wanted to be the new leader.
Everyone is holy. But some are more holy than others
Korach’s claim against Moshe was that everyone was holy and he had no right to be leader. But, similar to what George Orwell wrote about the pigs in Animal Farm, some of those who thought everyone was equal also thought they themselves should be in charge.
So Korach and his entire team entered a contest against Moshe and Aharon.
The Torah tells us that Korach issued the following instructions:
This is what you must do: take for yourselves firepans, Korach and all his congregation. Put in them fire and place in them incense before God tomorrow. Whichever man God chooses will be the holy one. (Bamidbar 16:6-7).
Even if Moshe would have lost the battle, so would the 250 or more people who went with the winner. With odds like those (not to mention Moshe’s track record of having God on his side), only a fool would show up the next day with the firepan. A fool or someone who was too stubborn to back down.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) says that there was only one man who walked away from the challenge; his salvation came only with the help of his wife. Everyone else was in too deep by the time they realized they almost certainly couldn’t win. And their stubborn pride wouldn’t allow them to back down.
Jews are stiff-necked but know when to back down
Being Jewish means being stiff necked and stubborn. We don’t give up on our beliefs easily. But sometimes we need to make sure we are being stubborn about the things that matter and not just because we are too proud to back down.
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