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Parshat Korach describes the most destructive rebellion ever staged by the Jewish people during their sojourn in the Wilderness. Korach, Moshe and Ahraron’s cousin, was a wealthy, learned and charismatic Levite who bore the Ark of the Covenant on his own shoulders. Korach gathered together two hundred and fifty of the most respected elders of the Jewish people by persuading them “with soft words” (Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 1). Korach’s soft, charming and convincing words moved the Jewish elite to follow him and rebel against Moshe. But how could these two hundred and fifty dignified, wise leaders question the authority of Moshe?! After all, they had just recently experienced the Revelation at Mount Sinai! These esteemed leaders witnessed the miracle of the parting of the Sea of Reeds after which the Torah tells us, “They believed in the Lord, and in Moshe His servant” (Shemot 14:31). What is more, they were still receiving the Manna, the heavenly bread provided by God! How could they have succumbed to the guile and allure of Korach?
To help answer this question, we should turn to the words of the Ramban, who explains that indeed, the people did love Moshe as they loved themselves, “and heeded him in all that he commanded them, and if anyone had rebelled against Moshe’s word during [their sojourn in the Wilderness of Sinai], the people would have stoned [the rebels].” However, the Ramban notes, “when [the Jewish people] entered the Wilderness of Paran and were burned in the fire of Tavara and many died…and [then] when they sinned with the [incident] of the Spies, Moshe did not pray for them [for total forgiveness], and [as a result] the decree against them [that they could never enter Eretz Yisrael] was not annulled…at that point the mood of the entire nation became bitter and they said in their hearts that the words of Moshe would bring upon them [more] mishaps. [It was] then [that] Korach found the opportunity to contest [Moshe’s] actions, and he believed that the people would [now] listen to him” (Ramban on Bamidbar 16:1).
Thus, Korach was not a sincere “champion of the people,” or a devoted servant of the downtrodden. Rather, he was a keen opportunist, a shrewd manipulator, who exploited the fear, frustration and despair of the people to move forward his agenda for self-aggrandizement. Korach’s words struck at the heart of the Jewish people when their morale and faith was at its all-time low, and he used their vulnerability to his benefit, sensing that now was the opportune time to incite a rebellion.
When we face moments of vulnerability, distress and dejection, it is important that we never lose sight of our values, our principles and ethics. When we find ourselves at our lowest points, it is crucial that we always hold onto our core beliefs, so that the “Korachs” of today do not use us as pawns in their own musings of power and glory. This Shabbat, may we learn from the mistake of the two hundred and fifty nobles of Israel. May we never lose sight of what is right even when the world around us feels like everything is wrong. May we never succumb to the charm and guile of others when our Torah teaches us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Mishlei 3:5). This Shabbat, may we stage our own rebellion against Korach. May we choose the side of Torah, mitzvot, Moshe and God, and never waver in our convictions to do what is good and what is right even when things look bad- choosing life over death, light over darkness, and peace over strife.