As we read through the book of Bamidbar, we get the sense that we are moving from one disaster to another. Following the departure from Har Sinai we come across a plethora of complaints, against both God and Moshe all of which result in a strong reaction and punishment from the Almighty. In last week’s parsha these grumblings come to a head when, as a result of the sin of the spies, Hashem decrees upon Am Yisreal to remain in the wilderness for a further forty years.
It would appear that the rebellion led by Korach in this week’s parsha stems from the events described in Parshat Shelach. Following the sin of the spies and the subsequent punishment from Hashem, there was naturally great anguish and despair amongst the people. The obvious scapegoat for their current predicament was Moshe. After all, was it not Moshe who promised them that they would be redeemed from Egypt in order to travel to a wonderful land flowing with milk and honey? Was it not Moshe who reassured them time and again that God Himself had decided to deliver them not only from Egypt but would also ensure their successful passageway into Eretz Yisrael? Who else to blame for all that went wrong than Moshe and his trusty sidekick Aharon?
On a close examination of the pesukim we notice that there are in fact two different complaints against Moshe and Aharon, one focused on the priesthood and the other on Moshe’s seemingly failed leadership. We suggest, however, that the attitude in the camp, that of a disgruntled nation anticipating many more years in a barren desert, contributed much to the atmosphere which allowed for such arrogant claims to be directed at Moshe and Aharon.
This entire episode raises important questions about the nature of Jewish leadership, questions which find their answers not only in this week’s parsha but also in the haftara taken from Chapter 12 of Sh’muel Aleph.
At first glance, the haftara appears to be dealing with a very different theme to the story of Korach. This chapter in the book of Sh’muel deals with the coronation of Shaul as king over Israel. The ceremony described here is the culmination of several chapters of deliberation and preparation for the foundation of a Jewish monarchy. It is difficult to analyze this episode in isolation; it is intrinsically connected to the previous chapters. We will however attempt to ascertain various messages which can be gleaned from this event and in particular the connection to our parsha.
Almost the entire perek consists of Sh’muel HaNavi’s words to Am Yisrael on this auspicious occasion. He begins with a comment which would seem somewhat uncalled for at this juncture:
“Here I am, Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and in the presence of His anointed one: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I derfrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe, to look the other way, I will return it to you.”
They (the people of Israel) responded, “You have not defrauded us, and you have taken nothing from anyone.”
He (Sh’muel) said to them, “The Lord then is witness’ and His anointed is witness to your admission this day that you have not found anything in my possession.” They responded, “He is!” (Sh’muel Aleph 12: 3-5)
As Sh’muel hands over the reigns of leadership to Shaul, is he in need of a final grade? Does he require Am Yisrael to confirm that he acted with integrity and was an honest person to all? We assume that there may be more to Sh’muel’s words and actions than a simple wish to be vindicated.
The answer to the question may lie in the connection between the above words of Sh’muel and our parsha. In reaction to the words of Datan and Aviram, who question his leadership, Moshe responds in anger:
Moshe was much aggrieved and said to Hashem “Pay no regard to their offering, I have not taken the donkey of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them.” (Bamidbar 16:16)
The above verses may well represent the linguistic parallel between the parsha and the haftara but they are said in very different circumstances to those in Sefer Sh’muel. Moshe Rabbeinu’s role as unrivaled leader is now being challenged. Moshe naturally feels a need to justify himself and so he exclaims that there should be no reason for their grievances. He has never acted with anything other than complete integrity. He has never wronged any of those from whom the complaint came.
Moshe’s response seems somewhat out of place. Surely, Datan and Aviram were not questioning Moshe’s moral stature. Their attack was based on the fact that Moshe had failed in their eyes to complete the task of bringing them to Eretz Yisrael. He therefore was unfit to continue as leader. Moshe does not relate to their point; he does not retort by saying that he will eventually take them to Eretz Yisrael. He does not justify his role by claiming that the decision to remain in the wilderness was not his but that of God. Rather he states that they have no reason to question his motives, he acts with complete honesty and integrity. Moshe is saying that if he had wronged them or stolen from them, then it would be legitimate for them to demand his resignation. The nature of their complaints was not justification for a rebellion against the leadership. There are times when things do not go as planned; not all outcomes can be predicted. That does not necessarily mean that the leadership has failed. In certain instances that may be the case but not always. Moshe is stating that as their leader he has acted as a leader should.
Herein lies the answer to the question posed above as this very message is stated by Sh’muel in the haftara. It is not recognition that he is seeking; Sh’muel wants the people to understand what a true leader is. The backbone of good leadership is integrity, honesty and the ability to look at all one’s subjects as equals. Sh’muel asks the people to bear witness to this matter and stresses that Hashem’s anointed one, Shaul also bear witness to this. As the new king begins his reign, the spiritual leader of the generation wants him and his subjects to be aware of the need for truth, honesty and integrity. It is these values upon which the monarchy must be based.
We could suggest a further reason why Sh’muel is driving home this point. Earlier in the sefer, when the people first ask for a king, Sh’muel is reluctant to grant them their wish. There is much discussion in Jewish literature on this subject ranging from the times of the mishna and gemara through the classic mefarshim and up to modern day commentaries. We suggest that one aspect of Sh’muel’s reaction is due to his concern as to the motives behind the people’s request. It is crucial that they understand that swapping one leader for another, or even one form of leadership for another, is not the main factor in understanding whom should be at the helm of the nation. Rather the integrity of the leader and his ability to serve all the people in an altruistic manner is that which should guide us in our choice of head of state. This may be a king, prime minister or president. The type of government is less important that the values on which that government is founded.
The haftara continues with a brief summary of Jewish history until this point. Sh’muel explains to Am Yisrael how our destiny has always been dependant on our relationship with Hashem. In order to demonstrate this notion, Sh’muel draws on the experiences of the exodus from Egypt and various instances of the period of the Shoftim. Interestingly, the specific Judges mentioned are Gidon, Shimshon, Yiftach and Sh’muel himself. The common factor between these individuals is the fact that they were either directly chosen by God or attributed their successes to Hashem. This too is a crucial element in the definition of Jewish leadership. Our leaders must exhibit great faith in the Almighty and are often explicitly chosen by Him for their role. In fact, in many cases, including all those mentioned in the haftara, the leaders did not look for power, rather they had the yolk of leadership thrust upon them.
This last idea, the fact that our true leaders have always been reluctant to take on their role is antithetical to Korach and his followers. They sought power, they wished to oust Moshe and take the glory of leadership for themselves. They also failed to understand that Moshe and Aharon had been chosen for this task by God Himself. On these two levels Korach erred. A true leader understands, as both Moshe Rabbeinu and Sh’muel HaNavi did, that leading the people is not a right, it is a responsibility, one to be treated with utmost seriousness and sincerity. Only those who have the correct value system, who act with integrity and have complete belief in God are suited to the mantel of leadership.
Comments and questions are welcome: