Liat Jackman
Former Shlicha Montreal (2003-05)
Currently raising her family, learning midrash and teaching in her community

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One would think that these miracles would be convincing enough. But after all this we hear a complaint of the people:

This week’s parasha continues the string of complaints from the last few parshiyot. This time the complaint comes against Moshe and Aharon’s leadership, instigated by Korah, Datan, Aviram and 250 leaders from the people. Moshe tries to quell the rebellion with words. When this doesn’t work, the ground swallows up Datan and Aviram’s camp. This happens as 250 leaders of the community are bringing incense to show they are worthy to replace Aharon. Fire comes from heaven and kills them.

וילנו כל עדת בני ישראל ממחרת על משה ועל אהרן לאמר אתם המתם את עם ה'” (במדבר טז:ו)
Next day the whole Israelite community railed against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You two have brought death upon the LORD’s people!” (Bamidbar, 16:6)
What are they thinking? It’s almost as if they are picking up where Korah left off. A plague begins in the camp, 14,700 people die and the plagues only stops when Aharon runs with incense into the middle of the camp. After this, Hashem commands each tribe to leave their staff in the Ohel Moed. Aharon’s staff blossoms and produces almonds.

According to the Rashbam and the Netsiv, the people blamed Moshe for intentionally giving the 250 leaders the incense test so they would die. The people have not internalized that Moshe and Aharon are doing Hashem’s will. There seems to be a misunderstanding what being a leader is about.

In his book פתח דבריך, the Rav Mordechai Sabato quotes a gemara in Horayot. Rabban Gamliel decides to appoint Rabbi Elazar Hasma and Rabi Yohanan ben Godgada as leaders:

כשעלה שלח להם ולא באו. חזר ושלח ובאו/ אמר להם כמדומין אתם ששררה אני נותן לכם? עבדות אני נותן לכם!

When Rabban Gamliel ascended, he sent to them and they did not come. He again sent and they came. Rabban Gamliel said to them: Do you imagine that I am granting you authority? I am granting you servitude! (Horayot 10a)
Rabban Gamliel makes it clear: being a leader is not about authority, it is about servitude. Rav Sabato explains: Moshe and Aharon are the heads of the people because they are not doing it for themselves. Moshe is the most humble of all people. Aharon, who says nothing in this whole parasha, does not seek the limelight. The 250 leaders take the incense to show they are Hashem’s chosen one, a opposed to Aharon, who takes the incense to stop the plague. He serves the people, not himself.

Similarly, the Sfat Emet explains the meaning of the miracle of Aharon’s staff blossoming. It hints “…that by the inclusion of all of B’nei Israel the Cohen’s work as a servant of G-d can bear fruit as it says “among their staffs”; that the actions of the tsaddik are not from his own strength, he  collects all the parts of the individuals’ work and actualizes their potential”[1].

Unfortunately, Korah and the others did not see this. Leadership is about serving your people, not about honor. In addition, the leader needs the work of each one of us in order to succeed. May we continue to seek the betterment of everyone rather than honor and authority.  
Shabbat Shalom
In memory of my father, Moshe ben Yehuda Aryeh z”l, on the occasion of his second yahrtzeit.


[1] Sfat Emet, תרמ”ד, paragraph starting with בענין, loosely translated by me.