D’var Torah: Parshat Korach – Aaron’s Selfless Leadership
The well-known story of the rebellion of Korach centers on his belief that Moshe and Aaron craved status above the Israelites for their own gain. He claimed this made them failed leaders. The demise of Korach and his followers (by fire) and of the demagogues Dathan and Abiram (by being swallowed by the earth) should have taught ordinary Israelites an important lesson. Instead, the very next day, they again took up their rebellion, blaming Moshe and Aaron for what happened. At that moment, God’s presence appeared in the Tent of Meeting and Moshe and Aaron rushed towards God. At this point, we expect the usual back and forth to ensue: God reveals the intention to wipe out the Israelites and Moshe and Aaron talk God out of it. But this time, after Moshe and Aaron prostrate themselves, God does not answer. Anytime something happens differently from the norm in the Torah, it is good to take notice. This moment may very well be the most perilous in Israelite history. Moshe and Aaron’s pleadings have fallen on deaf ears, and a plague begins to afflict the people.
Leadership is one of the critical skills we try to cultivate at Ramah. But there are times you have to ask yourself, why would anyone want to be a leader? Moshe and Aaron, although imperfect, have dedicated their lives to helping the Israelites. The Israelites have proven to be a most ungrateful people. They feel entitled to what they get, are always asking for more, and don’t seem capable of handling the smallest of setbacks. How far are Moshe and Aaron willing to go to save them?
In this particular moment, we see Moshe and Aaron work together to avert disaster. Moshe, the ideas man, tells Aaron to take his fire pan and run to the people to save them with the incense from the expiation ritual. Aaron literally has to run between “death” in the form of the plague and the people. It is a grim scene with thousands dying before Aaron can even get there.
How I love Aaron, the loyal brother that always plays second fiddle quietly and does whatever he can to serve the people. He literally “stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked.” While the Israelites tried to overthrow Aaron and Moshe because, in their view, they were in it only for themselves, Aaron risks everything to save the Israelites. I think it is Aaron’s love and dedication that turned away God’s wrath.
Thankfully, the crises that challenge us are not as extreme as the one Moshe and Aaron faced. Instead, we often need the courage to stand up for what is right even when it may make us less popular or risk our standing with our friends. At camp, this often happens when someone makes a mean joke at someone else’s expense. We can act like Aaron and throw ourselves between that mean joke and its victim by standing up and supporting the victim. We can also show courage in leadership by voicing our opinion when our friends may be planning to do something we know is foolish, potentially harmful or mean.
I think it is fitting and instructive that it is Aaron and not Moshe who takes the action to save the people. He is not as famous or charismatic as his brother, but these qualities do not make leaders. It is true dedication to and love for other people that calls people to lead and the ability to take selfless action that makes that leadership effective. Anyone can do it. It turns out Korach was sort of right: all Israelites have the potential to be holy. He was wrong in thinking that holiness was about status and not about service to others. This Shabbat, let’s embrace our opportunity to be in service to each other and let’s take that forward throughout our daily lives. Shabbat Shalom.