Friday, June 26, 2009

Shlach/Korach—Lonely At The Top

In Shlach, the Chet HaMeraglim was touched off by a failure of leadership; so much so that Rashi notes on 13:3 {“kulam anashim”] that they were all “chashuv” and “kesherim” at the moment of their appointment to the mission. This follows per my theme from Behaaloscha, that the failure of leadership may have began all the way back with the national attitude problem delineated by the pasuk “Vayisu Mehar Hashem” and Rashi’s intimation from “Ketzeh”/”Ketzinim” that this attitude was not restricted to the multitudes, mixed or otherwise; it might have infected the very top levels.

It’s possible that the individuals who were the meraglim suffered from this attitude. It is also possible that they were horrified either when they sensed this attitude among their countrymen, or, alternatively, were shaken when the Fire consumed their colleagues among the “gedolim”, as per another one of the explanations in that Rashi.

Either way, their response was overcorrective and reactionary; they reasoned that Bnei Yisrael were not ready for the Promised Land. “Here in the midbar, we have Torah 24/7, and the Eibishter provides. We enter Eretz Yisrael, we have to give that up. We aren’t there yet. Let’s try to stall.” The Ba’alei Mussar hint that they might not have been far off the mark…except that their attitude was colored by their fear that their current lofty status would not remain quo in Eretz Yisrael. Ultimately they may have considered their power as more important than the national interest.

Along these lines, there are two patterns of power-grabbing on Korach’s part that are instructive in the story. The first is his use of religious grievances and his (and his “Edah’s”) “frumkeit”; the second is his attempt to use democratic terminology while acting in an almost Stalinist manner. The combination of the two proved deadly.

In the first case, we see from the Gemara in Sanhedrin how On ben Peles’ wife dissuaded Adas Korach from coming to get On to further the conspiracy: she took her head covering off and sat in their courtyard, so when Adas Korach arrived to collect him and saw her, they immediately assumed On wasn’t frum enough to join the conspiracy, so they left him there. [Obviously they were a bit judgmental]. Additionally, Rashi relates Korach thought he actually had power coming to him [owing to a distorted reading of the ruach ha-kodesh he did have], which was one of the reasons he took the chance he did at fomenting the rebellion; he thought he couldn’t possibly lose.

It was these two attitudes in combination that led to his rather Stalinist behavior: he appealed to the rest of Bnei Yisrael by pretending to be a “democrat” [“rav lachem”] and telling the other 250 top-line conspirators that they would share power; but, he knew that if Moshe was right about the service with the machtos would kill anyone unworthy of performing it, and he was right about living to claim his share of power, he would live and everyone else would die. The fact that he was willing to let everyone else die so that he could claim his prize—and that he thought that this would automatically be Divinely sanctioned—spoke volumes about his worthiness as any leader, let alone spiritual.

Thus we see the progression from the possible infection of the country’s leaders with the attitude of “Vayisu MeHar Hashem” in Behaaloscha, to the clearer fear of loss or power in the case of the meraglim leading to the tragedies of Tisha B’av in Shlach, to the naked power-grab of Korach leading directly to a plague.

It’s sometime hard to criticize your spiritual leadership; in many cases it isn’t allowed. But the story running through these three parshiyot is a stark reminder that they, too, are human.

No comments: