Parashat Korach: Considerations of Leadership

Parashat Korach: Considerations of Leadership

(led by Rabbi J.B. Sacks on July 2, 2022)

 Last night I spoke of the difference between Moses’ leadership and Korach’s leadership, which we read about this morning in the Torah reading. Korach’s style was self-serving and preyed upon the hurts, fears, vulnerability, powerlessness, and lack of awareness of people. Korach’s leadership is about Korach. He leads to get–power, status, access, whatever. Moses’ leadership differs vastly. He leads not to get something but to give. His leadership is not self-serving but other-serving–and includes all others. Whereas Korach competes to win and that’s the goal, vision, and tactic wrapped into one. Nothing else matters. Moses, on the other hand, knows himself to be the vessel through which G!d’s vision for the Israelites could become manifest. He works for this to happen, because he believes everyone matters.

I also suggested that we, internally, have both the ability to act like Moses or act like Korach. Both are submerged; each has surfaced at different times in our lives.

Today’s haftarah helps us to probe these ideas further.

 Let’s begin today’s study by taking a look at I Samuel 12:6-11, on page 878.

The prophet Samuel here recounts a portion of Israelite history. He mentions by name five leaders: the great leaders Moses and Aaron (v. 8), two minor judges Y’ruba’al and B’dan, and Yiftach. Y’ruba’al is more famously known as Gideon.

 

QUESTIONS for CONSIDERATION:

Now Samuel doesn’t mention every leader or judge between Moses and himself. For example, he does not mention Joshua, Caleb, Othniel or Deborah. Therefore, the list must have another purpose besides a recitation of history. We rightly ask if he has chosen and curated this list with something in mind.

  • Do you see any purpose or intent in the choice of these five names (Moses, Aaron, Y’ruba’al, B’dan, and Yiftach)?
  • Why does he include himself?
  • We should consider who gets to recite history and who doesn’t? If you were to make a list of the important figures from Moses to Samuel, whom would you include or omit? Why?

 

Recall that Moses is considered our greatest leader. Aaron had greatness, too, particularly for not just loving peace, but pursuing it. Y’ru’ba’al was an astute military leader, who understood and used psychology to best motivate and prepare his troops. B’dan has nothing written about him, as if there was not much to commend him or condemn he–but he did serve. Finally, Yiftach was a person of questionable judgment that led to questionable actions.

Thus it’s possible to understand the list as written in descending order of effectiveness, goodness, judgment, or leadership abilities and achievement.

 

QUESTION for CONSIDERATION:

  • Does seeing this list in descending order change how you view the list?
  • If this list is in descending order, why might Samuel put himself at the bottom? Is this self-awareness, humility, or something else?

Finally, we found six leaders mentioned in this passage. Three–Moses, Aaron, and Samuel–are major leaders. The other three–Y’ruba’al, B’dan, and Yiftach–are minor leaders. According to the Talmud, this was done to show that all leaders, exceptional or not, are to be respected and followed.

 

QUESTION for CONSIDERATION:

  • Do you agree with this talmudic dictum?
  • Why might the Talmud assert that all legitimate leaders are to be respected and followed?
  • What makes someone a good leader, and what makes some leaders exceptional?
  • Can you think of an example of a good leader and an example of an exceptional leader? Your choices can be Jewish or not Jewish, living, deceased, or fictional, but please share what qualities and deeds of theirs seemed to make them good, or even exceptional, leaders?

Sometimes we react to leaders today by asking me-centered questions, such as “How has the President helped my life?” But it seems from our discussion that we all feel that leadership is not about focusing on a single constituent but is tied to their character and to their acting on a concern for the welfare and benefit of the community as a whole. It may be difficult for us to truly vote sometimes for the better candidate, or even to get the better candidate nominated. Nonetheless, history and collective memory tend to elevate the memories of the exceptional leaders, relegate the mediocre to the history, and the horrible to infamy. What remains are the concerns for equality, liberty, and justice, and the hopes for a better world.

 

 

 

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