Parashat Korach 2021
Normally, when we explore parashat Korach, we start from a place of rebellion. Why are Korach and his band: Dathan and Abiram and On and the 250 leaders rebelling against Moses’ leadership. But today I want to start in a different place. I want to start from a place of humility.
The issue of humility—who has it, who doesn’t—is all over the first several verses of our parasha. The fact that it goes into such detail to tell us the relationships and titles of all the rebels, making a point to affirm that these are people of renown, anshe shem, is telling. Furthermore, Korach’s actual accusation against Moses and Aaron: Rav Lachem. You are too big, too much, you have made yourselves bigger than you should be, is also telling. Korach is making an argument against their leadership by questioning their humility: isn’t this just an act of ego, Moses? Didn’t you say that all of Israel is holy? Don’t all Israelite Lives Matter?
Moses, however, doesn’t take the bait. Despite his credit as prophet and deliverer of Torah, he has always been a man of actions more than words. And the first thing he does is fall on his face, an act of piety and humility. He refuses to argue on Korach’s terms, refuses to play a game of comparison or contrast, who is holier or humbler than the other. As Dena Weiss from the Hadar Institute writes: “Moses is the model of humility not because he thinks that he is undeserving or inadequate. He certainly thinks that he and Aaron are deserving, and he is willing to prove it at a tremendously high cost. Moshe’s example teaches that what it means to be humble is to hold yourself to an absolute standard. Rather than compare yourself to other people, you should compare yourself to yourself. You assess what your abilities are in order to know what God expects from you, and you work hard on doing what you know you can and what you know you should.”
So we see that Korach and his band are the ones motivated by ego, creating a sliding scale in order to win at all costs. To borrow a term from racing, Moses wants to adhere to the standards set out, running the race against himself, not the others around him.
And then we have Aaron’s moment of humility, which is different. He does not prostrate himself, seems to do nothing. I used to think he was paralyzed in this moment, silent again, but the S’fat Emet says that he does not demonstrate his humility through an action because he doesn’t need to at all. He knows he’s humble, and is so humble as to know that Korach has a point, and if he loses his role as High Priest, so be it. He’s not interested in the title, only “Service above Self”, to borrow a term from Rotary.
Rav Kook echoes this sentiment in his exploration of humility in his Middot Ha-Ra’ayah, Humility 7: Whenever humility brings sadness, it is invalid, but when it is valid, it increases joy, strength, and self-esteem.
So where does that leave us? Hopefully, it leads us to lean into humility: and challenges us to ask whether we are working to serve others, see ourselves through God’s eyes, not through people’s eyes, or even our own eyes? As Ben Zoma says in Pirkei Avot, at the end of the day, “who is honored? One who honors others”, through our service and care. May it be so. Amen.