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Parshat Korach

Hertzberg-062014

We recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Although most of the ceremonies rightly focused on the brave soldiers who landed on the beaches and captured the land inch by bloody inch, there are many leadership lessons to be learned from all levels of military command. One of the most illustrative is General Eisenhower’s decision to launch the invasion despite questionable weather conditions. In fact, his decision is considered one of the most important and courageous decisions in military history.

Although famous for his smile, Ike Eisenhower actually harbored a volcanic temper that he worked arduously to control. Likewise, despite his outward perpetual optimism, he was, in fact, quite anxious and stressed in the days before June 6. He was drinking more than fifteen cups of coffee and smoking more than four packs of cigarettes a day. He was sleeping very little – according to some reports no more than two hours at a time.

With the weather conditions deteriorating, he spent June 4 either alone in his trailer or “Outside pacing aimlessly, hands deep in his pockets, smoking cigarette after cigarette as he scanned the skies seeking some sign, any indication, that the weather might change for the better” (World War II Magazine: D-Day 70th Anniversary Issue, p.26). During one of the walks Eisenhower took that day he bumped into NBC reporter Red Mueller and asked him to walk with him. The two men walked in silence the entire time. Mueller described Eisenhower as, “Bowed down with worry…as though each of the four stars on either shoulder weighed a ton” (Ibid, p.28).

What’s more is that very few people perceived the depths of his anxiety. Eisenhower had worked hard on himself to always exude confidence and optimism. Whatever doubts he had, he kept to himself. After the war he explained to his wife Mamie that, “If I let anybody, any of my commanders, think that maybe things weren’t going to work out, that I was afraid, they’d be afraid too. I didn’t dare. I had to have the confidence. I had to make them believe that everything was going to work” (Ibid, p.30).

Leaders must heed Eisenhower’s lesson and be careful to demonstrate confidence in public. This does not mean denying the dangers and risks involved in a particular decision. Rather, it means inspiring one’s followers in the soundness of one’s approach and in the belief that things are likely to turn out positively.

This makes it hard to understand Moshe’s action at the beginning of this week’s parsha. Upon hearing Korach’s challenge to his leadership, Moshe responds by falling to the ground (16:4). At first blush this seems to be a public display of despair. While Moshe had privately expressed doubts about his ability to lead the people, he had never displayed it publicly. In fact, Rashi’s explanation of his actions seems to support this idea. Rashi argues that since this was the fourth attack on Hashem by Bnei Yisrael Moshe felt that it would be futile to beseech G-d on their behalf. The question therefore remains: Why did Moshe ostensibly break this cardinal leadership rule?

The Rashbam suggests that Moshe fell to the ground in prayer and supplication. Accordingly, Moshe’s subsequent prayers would have made it obvious to Bnei Yisrael that he was not acting out of despair but rather with a focused and concentrated effort. The Ibn Ezra makes a similar point by suggesting that Moshe fell to the ground as part of a prophetic experience and not out of desperation.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division and is an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College.


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