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Parshas Korach: ‘Impulsive Wealth’

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In 1978, Michael Aun won the Toastmaster’s International Speaking contest in Vancouver. He remarks that although he is well-known for winning the contest in 1978, he lost it in 1977 in Toronto, because he went seven seconds over his allotted time. In his words, “Do you know what you do after you lose a contest because of seven seconds? You go up to your hotel room and you cry. But after a while, you realize that you can go for it again. A year later I won it in Vancouver. I often say that we have to remember that you often have to go through Toronto in order to get to Vancouver.”

That’s the way winner’s think. Winner’s focus on their strengths; losers focus on their weakness. Winners are challenged by defeat while losers are paralyzed by defeat. What everyone remembers about Michael Aun is his triumph in Vancouver. But they soon forget the defeats.

Losers spend their time in the pursuit of happiness; winners spend their time in the happiness of the pursuit.

Winners search for the challenges; losers search for security!

The tragic rebellion of Korach is of the saddest accounts of the nation’s travails in the desert. Rashi[1] asks, if Korach was such a distinguished and clever individual what prompted him to mount a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of Klal Yisroel?

Rashi answers that Korach’s eyes caused him to err. Korach prophetically saw that holy leaders and great individuals would emerge from his progeny, including Shmuel Hanavi, who in his time, was as great as Moshe and Aharon combined. Korach concluded that if such greatness was to emerge from him he could not allow himself to be denied greater prestige and influence. He was convinced that the merit of his erstwhile descendants would protect him, and that he had a responsibility to achieve greater renown for their sake.

Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l[2] noted that Korach should have reached the exact opposite conclusion. If he was to father such great personages he should have seen it as beneath his dignity to incite an imbroglio against Moshe. He should have concluded that it does not befit the ancestor of Shmuel Hanavi to dispute the leader of Klal Yisroel over honor and glory.

The true initiator of Korach’s tragic rebellion was his wife. She would deride him for being silent and unassuming. “Whenever Moshe blows the trumpet, you and your fellow porters come running to shlep the Holy Ark to its next location. For someone so distinguished you are treated like a nobody. Moshe ensured that his closest family members have all of the most distinguished positions, but you get nothing!” Eventually her inflammatory remarks provoked Korach to challenge Moshe’s authority.

In Mishlei (28:20) it says, “One who is impatient to become rich will not become exonerated.” The Medrash applies this verse to Korach. Korach couldn’t wait to enjoy the honor and greatness he anticipated from his descendants and so he tried to grasp it prematurely. The results proved disastrous.

Yirmiyahu (17:11) warns us, “One who amasses wealth unjustly will lose it in the middle of his days.” Prima facie, the prophets foreboding words seem puzzling. Aren’t there many individuals who employ unethical means to achieve wealth and prominence, and then seem to enjoy the fruits of their unscrupulous actions in comfort?

Rav Pam explained that such individuals represent the greatest tragedy of all. There are individuals who are predestined to become wealthy for whatever divine reason. G-d has ordained that somehow they would become rich. Had they not succumbed to immoral activities they would have had their money anyway. Thus they gained absolutely nothing by being dishonest and deceitful. What a tragedy that they could have enjoyed their wealth and not have had to be punished for it in the next world. When the prophet warns of those who will lose their wealth rapidly he is referring to one who is not predestined to become wealthy. All of his schematic efforts will ultimately prove futile and “he will lose it in the middle of his days.”

This concept is not limited to wealth but to honor and prestige too. One can only achieve what G-d wills him to achieve, and all of his efforts will accomplish nothing if it is not meant to be. This was the root of Korach’s fallacious thinking. G-d had planned a glorious future for him, albeit through his descendants. But Korach was impatient and impulsive, and he thought mounting a coup-de-tat could alter his destiny. The error cost him not only his life and the lives of his family and followers, but also his share in the World to Come.

In our world we are infatuated by dreams of striking it big in a hurry. There are numerous advertisements for programs and jobs which can make you rich and successful quickly. “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” As if in one moment all of your problems can be solved. It is not uncommon for people to forfeit their life’s savings in one of such luring programs.

This mode of thinking seeps into the world of spirituality as well. We search for “instant wisdom” and yearn for quick ways to become righteous and scholarly. The reality is however, that greatness is the product of struggle and perseverance.

In our impatient world many often conclude that if they cannot master Torah or levels of greatness quickly they must not be “cut out” for it. The verse[3] states “Wealth gathered by hand will accumulate”. Ibn Ezra explains that only when one works hard at gradually accumulating wealth will he be successful.

Rav Pam notes that the same applies to Torah knowledge and serving G-d. Every little bit of toil and effort is part of the arduous journey toward greater levels of spiritual attainment. But one must be ready for the journey and not seek shortcuts.

There is a great quote which states that, “Success is a road not a destination, and the road is always under construction.” There is no sure-fire, universal road that everyone can take. Everyone must painstakingly seek out his own path and be prepared for the expedition. But above-all one must have patience with himself. Korach wanted to have it all, and to have it now, and that proved to be at the root of his tragic downfall.

Dovid Hamelech stated[4] “The joyous heart is the one which seeks G-d.” Happiness lies in the pursuit, fraught with all of its challenges and difficulties. One only senses joy when he takes up the journey.

[1] 16:1

[2] “Rav Pam on Chumash” by Rabbi Sholom Smith

[3] Mishley 13:11

[4] Tehillim 105:3 (Also Divrei Hayamim I 16:10)

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and the Social Worker at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch in Monsey. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. His website is www.stamtorah.info.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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